After an extensive annual review process, four of the territory’s beaches and two of its marinas will once again fly an eco-label that recognizes them for their dedication to sustainable tourism.
Known as the “Blue Flag Program,” the status is designated by the Foundation for Environmental Education and is based on compliance with 32 criteria, including environmental education and information, water quality, environmental management and safety.
The flags this year were awarded to:
St. Thomas: Emerald Beach, Great Bay Beach and Crown Bay Marina.
St. Croix: Green Cay Beach at Tamarind Reef, the Palms at Pelican Cove, and Green Cay Marina.
All have received the award at least once before. Crown Bay Marina and Green Cay Marina have now been certified for the fifth year in a row.
FEE sets the criteria the sites must comply with, but it’s all guided by information from the United Nations Environment Programme, World Health Organization and World Trade Organization. There’s also a $1,000 application fee and the beaches must cover some of the water monitoring costs.
“The Blue Flag Program is increasingly being conducted within a wider context, improving the environmental quality of beaches and marinas and the management of coastal areas in a holistic way,” said the V.I. Blue Flag coordinator Valerie Peters.
Peters explained that having multiple stakeholders on one beach can be very challenging, since part of the beach could be managed, but not all of it. At Emerald Beach, the Blue Flag designation only covers the part of the beach that is maintained by the resort.
“It is a system that does not curtail recreation and tourism in the coastal area but rather deals with it through a wide range of subjects, activities and users that have direct and indirect interactions with the coastal environment,” Peters added
When the territory’s Blue Flag sites raise their flags on Dec. 1, they can promote the designation on their websites and social media accounts. The V.I. Department of Tourism, the V.I. Hotel and Tourism Industry and the national Blue Flag website will promote their eco-conscious status.
According to Peters, anyone interested in coastal conservation, sustainability, marine eco-systems, water safety and quality will appreciate the designation.
The sites must apply for designation every year even if they’ve been awarded the status in previous years. A team of national jurors from agencies and departments including the Environmental Protection Agency, V.I. Waste Management Authority, Coast Zone Management and the Department of Education review the applications and conduct an on-site inspection.
“The Blue Flag Program serves to encourage authorities and managers to provide beaches and marinas with a certain level of environmental quality, cleanliness, and safety standards for local populations and tourists” Peters said.
Peters said that not all of the benefits of having Blue Flag status are obvious, and listed the following additional additional advantages:
– Clean beaches and regularly monitored bathing water quality,
– Environmental education activities and information for residents and visitors,
– Access to life saving equipment and other safety services,
– Healthy and safe coastal environments,
– Preservation of the local natural resources,
– Promote sound environmental values and sustainable lifestyles,
– Bring together the tourism and environmental sectors at local, national and regional levels,
– International exposure and recognition for the USVI, and
– Foster community pride.
Founded in 1987, the Blue Flag Program started with 10 participating countries and is now found in 48 countries and more than 4,000 beaches and marinas around the world.