People around the world recognize the Blue Flag as a symbol of environmental excellence for beaches and marinas. They know that when they see the flag flying, they can count on the same strict criteria being met no matter where they are in the world.
As the manager of the Blue Flag Canada program, I am often asked how Blue Flags are awarded. How do we “decide” which beaches and marinas get the designation, and how do we ensure that communities continue to meet the criteria year after year?
That is why we have a Blue Flag Jury – a group of volunteers with expertise representing the four categories of criteria: environmental education, water quality, environmental management, safety and services. While I am responsible for accepting and reviewing applications, it is important that the applications are voted on by independent experts. The jury meets every February to evaluate both new and returning applicants. Here are the individuals that make up Canada’s Blue Flag jury:
- Ted Briggs: Ontario Ministry of the Environment
- Jim Hudson: Southwest Ontario Tourism Corporation
- Mary Lovett: EcoSchools Consulting
- Jae Park: Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors
- Geoff Peach: Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation
- Michael Shane: Lifesaving Society
Last week the jury met to evaluate the 2015 beach and marina applications, and the jury was impressed with what they saw. New applicants went out of their way to demonstrate how they meet the criteria, and it is exciting to see the Blue Flag community grow. It was equally inspiring to see that many returning applicants have deepened their commitment to the program, and are going above and beyond what is required.
Wasaga Beach is a great example. Due to sustainable beach management, excellent public outreach and the hard work of the volunteers who make up the Piping Plover Guardians, the endangered Piping Plovers had a banner year in 2014. This year 12 chicks hatched and nine survived – a 75 per cent survival rate.
The Municipality of Bluewater is another community that takes its Blue Flag seriously. Arlene Parker, in charge of both Bayfield Beach and Bluewater Marina, personally knocked on doors during the summer to speak with residents about how stormwater affects water quality. Everyone she spoke with was aware of Bayfield’s Blue Flag designation and was eager to take actions to support the environment.
Now my job is to forward all of the successful applications to the international jury, which meets in April. The International Jury is composed of representatives from the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) and a number of other well-known international bodies including: the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), World Tourism Organization (WTO), International Lifesaving Federation (ILS) and the European Union.
Once beaches and marinas have passed the two levels of scrutiny by independent experts, you can be sure that those who get the award are the best of the best. We will announce this year’s Canadian Blue Flag beaches and marinas in June. Be sure to sign-up for our Water Update e-newsletter so you can be the first to know where the Blue Flag will be flying in Canada this summer.