Mother Nature is good to Costa Rica, and has gifted this nation more than 750 miles of powdery sands and lush coastline. In return, Costa Rica is good to Mother Nature, working to create initiatives to protect the environment and to encourage local communities, businesses and schools to do their part to keep Costa Rica green. One of the nation’s most important environmental programs is the Ecological Blue Flag – a proud banner of sound ecological practices, community efforts and coastal protections.
History of Costa Rica’s Ecological Blue Flag
Costa Rica’s Blue Flag Ecological Program (Bandera Azul Ecológica) was launched in 1996. The goal: to protect the nation’s diverse and fragile coastal ecosystems; to clean up current and prevent future beach pollution; to improve the health of Costa Rica’s people and environment; and to safeguard the country’s reputation as a world-class ecotourism destination. To achieve such diverse goals, the program relies on inter-institutional cooperation; participating agencies include the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT), the National Chamber of Tourism (CANATUR), the Costa Rican Water and Sewage Institute (AyA), the Ministry of Environment (MINAE), the Ministry of Public Health (MINSA), and the Ministry of Education (ME).
Over the last 17 years, the Blue Flag program has steadily grown in scope and popularity, with great nationwide recognition and more beaches receiving certification. Today, the Blue Flag program is a source of year-round community effort – and pride. And rightly so, since the certification requires daily monitoring and monthly checkups – tasks for which beach communities are solely responsible.
How does it work?
The Blue Flag Ecological Program is an annual certification, granted every year to those communities that have scored a minimum 90% for all requirements. To do so, each beach and coastal community is rated on a scale of one to five stars, taking into account the following criteria:
- Ocean water quality (35%)
- Quality of potable water (15%)
- Quality of coastal sanitation areas:
- Coastal garbage and garbage containers (10%)
- Treated industrial waste in coastal areas (5%)
- Treated run-off water in coastal areas (15%)
- Environmental education (10%)
- Security and administration (10%)
Blue Flag Beaches 2013
In 2013, a record 90 beaches were awarded the Ecological Blue Flag; comparatively, during the program’s first year there were only 10 participants (and even fewer flag recipients). In 2013, Blue Flags are now flown over 27 Northern Guanacaste beaches, 11 Southern Guanacaste beaches, 11 beaches in Puntarenas province, 14 beaches in the Central Pacific, 8 beaches in the Southern Pacific, 6 Northern Caribbean beaches, and 13 Southern Caribbean beaches.
Two beaches – Punta del Madero Beach in Guanacaste and Punta Blanca in Puntarenas – received top marks (5 stars). The requirements to achieve a 5-star rating are rigorous, and include not only a 90-100% score on the above criteria, but also disabled access, recycling initiative, car and horse restrictions, year-round security and rescue teams, and more.
Blue Flag beaches of 2013 include:
- Playa Manuel Antonio
- Playa Conchal
- Playa Guiones
- Playa Samara
- Playa Tortuguero
- Playa Junquillal
- Playa Manzanillo
- Playa Santa Teresa
- Playa Mal País
Hats off to the communities, schools and businesses that made efforts every, single day to keep their beaches and coastal areas clean. Felicidades! (Congratulations!) And if you’re planning to visit Costa Rica in 2013, consider staying in or around one of the nation’s Blue Flag beaches – they deserve a visit and you deserve to see the nation’s most pristine sands.