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Puerto Rico Moves Ahead To Certify Island Beaches

Chosen to be the model for the Caribbean Blue Flag program


June 20, 2002
Copyright © 2002 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

A Caribbean consortium has selected Puerto Rico to be the model for a regional Blue Flag pilot program.

Blue Flag is a voluntary certification scheme for beaches and marinas. It is an exclusive eco-label that represents high environmental standards along with good sanitary and safety facilities.

More than 2,500 beaches and marinas in 21 countries across Europe are in the Blue Flag program. Although about 80% of Puerto Rico’s tourists arrive from the U.S. mainland, the Tourism Co. has been seeking to attract more European visitors to the island.

Leading the Caribbean Blue Flag efforts are the Caribbean Tourism Organization, the Caribbean Conservation Association, and the Caribbean Association for Sustainable Tourism (CAST), a subsidiary of the Caribbean Hotel Association. Destinations currently competing to apply the program in the region are Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Bahamas, Antigua, and Martinica.

"We are proud that Puerto Rico has been chosen as the model island to obtain the Blue Flag certification; we already have a legislative framework and a working committee," said Milton Segarra, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Co., in a press release.

In 1999, the Rossello administration passed Law 173, which made the Tourism Co. responsible for forming a working committee, presided by the government’s Beach Board, to help in the Blue Flag certification process.

Lourdes Diaz, director of product development at the Tourism Co., said the committee carried out viability studies in August 2001 for three of the island’s beaches: El Escambron Beach in San Juan, the Carolina public beach, and Monserrate Beach in Luquillo.

"Our beaches represent one of the most important natural resources of Puerto Rico," Segarra said. "For the tourist and for us, it is essential that our beaches are in the best conditions as far as cleanliness, security, and good service."

The three beaches are now competing to become the first certified under the Blue Flag program in the Caribbean.

"The studies were completed, and now we are working on correcting any areas of deficiency," Diaz said. "The final criteria for implementing the program in the Caribbean, which differs from that in Europe, will be determined this August."

To be certified under the Blue Flag program, beaches and marinas must meet 27 and 16 criteria, respectively. These cover four main areas: water quality, environmental education and information, environmental management, and safety and services.

Several government agencies–the Tourism Co., the National Parks Dept., and the Environmental Quality Board (EQB)–are currently funding the Blue Flag program, whose total cost will depend on the type of environmental evaluation needed for the island’s beaches.

Diaz said there is a possibility, however, that the Tourism Co. would ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for additional funds.

The Tourism Co. has invested money for the viability studies and for consultation on implementing the program. The National Parks Dept. is responsible for the signage, while the EQB is to monitor the water.

In 1999, CAST coordinated a study in Puerto Rico to determine candidates for the regional Blue Flag program. The nominees were the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Martinique, Mexico, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, and Puerto Rico.

The Dominican Republic, which has had health and hygiene problems, is reported to be trying to adapt the Blue Flag program in an effort to demonstrate that its beaches are safe. Jamaica, meanwhile, has proven to be a leader in the whole environmental movement.

"The Dominican Republic is soliciting a copy of our law to create a similar one," concluded Diaz.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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