The Blue Flag Programme

Eng. Moaz Sawaf
Coordinator of the Blue flag Programme
Environmental Center for Arab Towns

The Blue Flag Programme is a voluntary eco-label for beaches and marinas. The programme is run by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), a non profit nongovernmental organisation with member organisations in 73 countries as of June 2015. The Blue Flag Programme started in Europe in 1987 with the purpose of encouraging beaches to comply with the EU Bathing Water Directive.

The Programme criteria have since developed to address a wide range of environmental and safety issues. The number of participating countries and of beaches and marinas receiving the award has increased yearly.

The Blue Flag is given to beaches and marinas that meet a specific set of criteria concerning environmental information and education, water quality, safety and services and environmental management. It has become a symbol of quality recognised by tourists and tour operators and can be used for the promotion of the awarded beach or marina.

The programme is designed to raise environmental awareness and increase good environmental practices among tourists, local populations and beach and marina management and staff. The programme criteria are also designed to work with the national, regional and local legislation of each country, thereby assuring that the legislation is being followed. It can also be used to set a benchmark higher than what already exists.

As of 2015 there were over 4150 sites awarded with the Blue Flag in 49 countries including countries in Europe, in the Caribbean, Morocco, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa and the United Arab Emirates.
In United Arab Emirates, The Environmental Venter for Arab Towns (ECAT) is the national representative for the Foundation of Environmental Education (FEE) programs, which Blue Flag is one of those programmes. The Blue Flag was launched back in 2010 and the first beach was awarded with the Blue Flag in 2011. Since then the programme received a good responds, and today we have 28 beaches and 5 marinas flying the Blue Flag in the United Arab Emirates, with more to come this season.

The criteria for the Blue Flag Beach Programme have developed over the years to become more holistic and to address the various issues of sustainability. The criteria are designated as either imperative or guideline, or not applicable for certain regions. The main criteria are:

Environmental Education and Information
  • Information about coastal zone eco-systems and nearby sensitive areas must be displayed
  • Information about bathing water quality must be posted.
  • A code of conduct for the beach area must be displayed.
  • A minimum of 5 environmental education activities must be offered Water Quality.
  • Compliance with standards for excellent bathing water quality.
  • No industrial or sewage related discharges may affect the beach area .
  • Compliance of the community with requirements for sewage treatment and effluent quality.
Environmental Management
  • The beach must be clean.
  • Camping and driving must be regulated.
  • A beach management committee must be established to be in charge of the environmental management system.
Safety and Services
  • Lifeguards and/or lifesaving equipment must be available at the beach.
  • A map of the beach indicating different facilities must be displayed.
  • An emergency plan to cope with pollution safety risks must be in place.
Developing the Blue Flag Programme

At the start of the Blue Flag Programme, a national information workshop must be held. Also a National Blue Flag Committee must be established, consisting of representatives from the national water-, tourism-, education- and environmental authorities. Other relevant experts and interest groups such as beach/marina associations and recreational groups should also be a part of the committee.

The National Blue Flag Committee will review the international criteria and identify how they fit with their local legislation and situation. They will then choose one or more beaches or marinas to become the first Blue Flag pilot sites. These first pilot sites will serve as learning opportunities and examples for other beaches and marinas in the country. Once the pilot sites have successfully completed a season and they show to be in full compliance with the Blue Flag criteria, they can apply for the full Blue Flag status.

Application procedures for beaches and marinas, Initial Contact

Beaches and marinas which would like to apply for the Blue Flag award should first contact their national FEE organisation’s Blue Flag operator. The national operators provide interested parties with the national Blue Flag application form and procedural instructions. A pre-application review of the applicant is sometimes done to help identify problem areas that could be improved.

The Selection Process The National Jury meets once a year to review the candidates from that country and to decide if they are in compliance with all of the Blue Flag criteria. Approved candidates are then forwarded to the International Jury. The International Blue Flag Jury meets twice a year to review candidates from different areas of the world. Once the candidates have been accepted by the International Jury they are awarded with the Blue Flag for one season.

Control Visits

Control visits are made during the Blue Flag season by both national and international controllers to assure that all criteria are met. If problems are found the flag is withdrawn until these are fixed. If the problem is very serious or if it is not fixed within a given period of time, the flag is withdrawn for the rest of the season. The public is also encouraged to report any problems about Blue Flag beaches and marinas to the national and international Blue Flag contacts.

Environmental Education

Each Blue Flag marina and beach are required to carry out three or five environmental education activities respectively. These activities should target different groups such as tourists, boat owners, staff, children or local populations.
The activities can vary from drawing competitions to clean-up days, seminars,
guided nature walks, publications etc
For more information on the Blue Flag programme, please contact us at:

Eng. Moaz Sawaf
Ms. Fatima Mubarak
Environmental Center for Arab Towns

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