With March Break approaching, many Canadians will flock to the sunny south for a dose of sunshine and relaxation. As the winter lingers on, nothing seems more appealing than lying on a beach and floating in turquoise waters. But how do you know if your beach destination is safe for swimming?

Not all beaches get their water tested, and water quality standards vary from country to country. It isn’t uncommon for tropical beaches to be located near stormwater outfalls or sewage drains. Contaminated water can cause all sorts of vacation-ruining illnesses, including rashes, pinkeye, stomach bugs, respiratory infections, meningitis, and hepatitis. There’s nothing like a gastrointestinal illness to make you wish you stayed home.

If you want to be on the safe side, look for a Blue Flag beach when you’re planning your vacation. In order to be awarded a Blue Flag, beaches must meet strict international criteria for water quality, based on four years of data. The water must be tested regularly throughout the bathing season, and the results must be posted at the beach for visitors to see.

Blue Flag beaches must also be clean, have accessible facilities, and must provide safety provisions like lifeguards. But Blue Flag beaches are not just for people – they must be managed sustainably and provide habitat for local flora and fauna. Sensitive species such as sea turtles must be protected, and marine habitats like coral reefs must be preserved and monitored. So by choosing a Blue Flag beach, you are not only taking care of your own health but the health of the environment.

To find a Blue Flag beach around the world, visit www.blueflag.org. Whether you are going to the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Europe, Central or South America, there are thousands of Blue Flag beaches to choose from. Why not make your next beach vacation safe and sustainable?