Blue Flag beach

The Blue Flag (Irish: Brat Ghorm[1][2]) is a certification by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE)[3] that a beach, marina, or sustainable boating tourism operator meets its stringent standards.

The Blue Flag is a trademark owned by FEE which is a not-for-profit non-governmental organisation[4] consisting of 65 organisations in 60 member countries.

FEE's Blue Flag criteria include standards for quality, safety, environmental education and information, the provision of services and general environmental management criteria. The Blue Flag is sought for beaches, marinas, and sustainable boating tourism operators as an indication of their high environmental and quality standards.

Certificates, which FEE refers to as awards, are issued on an annual basis to beaches and marinas of FEE member countries. The awards are announced yearly on 5 June for Europe, Canada, Morocco, Tunisia, and other countries in a similar geographic location, and on 1 November for the Caribbean, New Zealand, South Africa, and other countries in the southern hemisphere.[5]

In the European Union, the water quality standards are incorporated in the EC Water Framework Directive.

Spain has held the 1st position for nearly three decades since the awards began in 1987.[6]

Blue Flags awarded

2015 Awards

As a result of the 2015 awards, a total of 4,154 Blue Flags are waving around the world.[7]

Table of Blue Flags in force 2015

The table below lists the Blue Flags (both for beaches and marinas) awarded and in force in 2015.

The table can be sorted to show the total number of Blue Flags per country and also the number of Blue Flags per population, per area or per the length of the coastline of each country. [8]

Country Blue Flag Beaches[7] Blue Flag Marinas[7] Blue Flag Boats Total Blue Flags[7] Population Area (km2) Coastline (km) [9] Blue Flag Beaches per 1,000,000 Population Total Blue Flags per 1,000,000 Population Blue Flag Beaches Density per 10,000 km2 Area Total Blue Flags Density per 10,000 km2 Area Blue Flag Beaches per 100 km coastline
 Brasil 72110

 Costa Rica

 Dominican Republic21002110,090,00048,3101,2880.690.691.451.450.54
 Estonia 2 0 0 2
 England 61 0 0 61
 France (inc. territories)39498049265,073,482632,7604,6684.385.524.505.676.11
 Israel 36 3 0 39
 Jordan 5 0 0 5
 Mexico 20 1 0 21
 New Zealand02134,318,700270,46715,1340.460.690.070.110.01
 Northern Ireland 9 2 0 11


 Puerto Rico921123,982,0008,8705011.261.765.647.891.00
 Scotland 1 0 0 1
 Serbia 1 0 0 1
 Sint Maarten 1 0 0 1
 South Africa468126652,980,0001,221,0372,7981.551.550.670.672.93
 Trinidad and Tobago 1 0 0 1
 UAE 24 4 0 28
 Ukraine 4 0 0 4
 US Virgin Islands 4 2 0 6
 Wales 41 1 6 48
 India 13 0 0 13 1,324,171,354 3,287,263 7,500 0.01 0.01 0.04 0.04 0.17

Note: Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland have always been treated as individual countries e.g. in 2015 Northern Ireland had 10 Blue Flag beaches and marinas, England had 61, Wales had 41 and Scotland 1.[4]


The Blue Flag was created in France in 1985, as a pilot scheme from the Office of the Foundation for Environmental Education in Europe (Office français de la Fondation pour l'Education à l'Environnement en Europe) where French coastal municipalities were awarded the Blue Flag on the basis of criteria covering sewage treatment and bathing water quality.[12][13] 11 French municipalities got the award in 1985.[14]

Blue Flag on European Community level in 1987

1987 was the "European Year of the Environment" and the European Commission was responsible for developing the European Community activities of that year. The Foundation for Environmental Education in Europe (FEEE) presented the concept of the Blue Flag to the Commission, and it was agreed to launch the Blue Flag Programme as one of several "European Year of the Environment" activities in the Community.[15]

The French concept of the Blue Flag was developed on European level to include other areas of environmental management, such as waste management and coastal planning and protection. Besides beaches marinas also became eligible for the Blue Flag.

In 1987, 244 beaches and 208 marinas from 10 countries were awarded the Blue Flag.


There have been increases in the numbers of Blue Flags awarded each year. The criteria have during these years been changed to more strict criteria. As an example, in 1992 the Programme started using the restrictive guideline values in the EEC Bathing Water Directive as imperative criteria, and this was also the year where all Blue Flag criteria became the same in all participating countries.

Outside the European Union

In 2001, FEEE rules were changed to allow non-European national organisations, sharing the objectives of FEEE, to become members, and changed its name by dropping Europe from its name, becoming the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE).[14]

Several organisations and authorities outside the European Union have joined FEE. In 2001, South Africa and several Caribbean countries joined.[14] FEE has been cooperating with UNEP and UN WTO on extending the Programme to areas outside Europe. South Africa, Canada, Morocco, Tunisia, New Zealand and four countries in the Caribbean region are members of FEE. Aruba and Brazil are currently in the pilot phase of the Programme and Jordan, Macedonia, Turks & Caicos Islands, Ukraine and United Arab Emirates have started the implementation of the Blue Flag Programme.

FEE standards allow for regional variations in beach criteria to reflect specific environmental conditions of a region. As of 2006 an international set of criteria is being used with some variations.

Extension of the award to sustainable boating tourism operators

In 2016, Blue Flag extended its programme boat-based tourism activities like nature watching (whale watching, bird watching, cage diving etc.), recreational fishing, diving and crewed charter tours. Certified tour operators have to comply with criteria regarding the sustainable operation of their boats and their business as a whole.

Present program

In 2015 over 4,154 beaches and marinas globally were awarded the Blue Flag.[4]

47 countries are participating in the Blue Flag Programme: Bahamas, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Dominican Republic, England, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Mexico, Montenegro, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, Panama, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Romania, Serbia, Sint Marteen, Scotland, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Tunisia, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, US Virgin Islands and Wales.

Blue Flag beach criteria

Environmental education and information

  • Information relating to coastal zone ecosystems and natural, sensitive areas in the coastal zone must be displayed
  • Information about bathing water quality must be displayed
  • Information about the Blue Flag Programme must be displayed
  • Code of conduct for the beach area must be displayed and the laws governing beach use must be easily available to the public upon request
  • A minimum of 5 environmental education activities must be offered

Water quality

  • Compliance with the requirements and standards for excellent bathing water quality
  • No industrial or sewage related discharges may affect the beach area
  • Monitoring on the health of coral reefs located in the vicinity of the beach
  • Compliance of the community with requirements for sewage treatment and effluent quality
  • Algae or other vegetation should be left to decay on the beach unless it constitutes a nuisance

Environmental management

  • A beach management committee must be established to be in charge of instituting environmental management systems and conduct regular environmental audits of the beach facility
  • The beach must comply with all regulations affecting the location and operation of the beach (coastal zone planning and environmental legislation)
  • The beach must be clean
  • Waste disposal bins/receptacles must be available on/by the beach in adequate numbers, regularly maintained and emptied
  • Facilities for receiving recyclable waste materials must be available on/by the beach
  • Adequate and clean sanitary facilities with controlled sewage disposal
  • On the beach there will be no unauthorised camping or driving and no dumping
  • Regulation concerning dogs and other domestic animals on the beach must be strictly enforced
  • All buildings and equipment of the beach must be properly maintained
  • Sustainable means of transportation must be promoted in the beach area

Safety and services

  • An adequate number of lifeguards and/or lifesaving equipment must be available at the beach
  • First aid equipment must be available on the beach
  • There must be management of different users and uses of the beach so as to prevent conflicts and accidents
  • An emergency plan to cope with pollution safety risks must be in place
  • There must be safe access to the beach
  • The beach area must be patrolled
  • A supply of drinking water must be available on the beach
  • A minimum of one Blue Flag beach in each municipality must have access and toilet facilities provided for disabled persons
  • A map of the beach indicating different facilities must be displayed

Blue Flag marina criteria

Environmental education and information

  • Environmental information about natural sensitive nearby land and marine areas is supplied to marina users.
  • Code of environmental conduct is posted in the marina.
  • Information about the Blue Flag Marina Programme and/or the Blue Flag Marina Criteria are posted in the marina.
  • The marina should be able to demonstrate that at least three environmental education activities are offered to the users and staff of the marina
  • The Individual Blue Flag for boat owners is offered through the marina.

Environmental management

  • Production of an environmental policy and plan at the marina. The plan should include references to water, waste and energy consumption, health and safety issues, and the use of environmentally sound products when available.
  • Adequate and properly identified and segregated containers for the storage of hazardous wastes (paints, solvents, boat scrapings, antifouling agents, batteries, waste oil, flares). The wastes should be handled by a licensed contractor and disposed of at a licensed facility for hazardous waste.
  • Adequate and well managed litter bins and/or garbage containers. The wastes should be handled by a licensed contractor and disposed of by a licensed facility.
  • The marina has facilities for receiving recyclable waste materials, such as bottles, cans, paper, plastic, organic material, etc.
  • Bilge water pumping facilities are present in the marina.
  • Toilet pumping facilities are present in the marina.
  • All buildings and equipment must be properly maintained and in compliance with national legislation. The marina must be in a good integration with the surrounding natural and built environment.
  • Adequate, clean and well sign-posted sanitary facilities, including washing facilities and drinking water. Controlled sewage disposal to a licensed sewage treatment.
  • If the marina has boat repairing and washing areas, no pollution must enter the sewage system, marina land and water or the natural surroundings.
  • Promotion of sustainable transportation.
  • No parking/driving in the marina, unless in specific designated areas.

Safety and service

  • Adequate, clean and well sign-posted lifesaving, first-aid equipment and fire-fighting equipment. Equipment must be approved by national authorities.
  • Emergency plan in case of pollution, fire or other accidents must be produced.
  • Safety precautions and information must be posted at the marina.
  • Electricity and water is available at the berths, installations must be approved according to national legislation.
  • Facilities for disabled people.
  • Map indicating the location of the different facilities is posted at the marina.

Water quality

  • Visually clean water (no oil, litter, sewage or other evidence of pollution).

Microbiological test as evidence for bacterial free

Blue Flag sustainable boating tourism operator criteria

Environmental education and information

  • Information to relevant local environmental phenomena, local ecosystems and sensitive areas in the surrounding environment
  • Information about the Blue Flag programme
  • Code of conduct for passengers which includes the adequate disposal of litter, smoking policy on board, safety measures and the adequate behaviour during an encounter with wild animals
  • At least one environmental education activity has to be offered within the operating season
  • Environmental training for all employees
  • Provision of a qualified guide on guided tours

Environmental management

  • It is recommended to establish a management committee with responsibility for instituting environmental management systems and conducting regular environmental audits
  • Each tour operator has to have an environmental policy and an environmental plan
  • All regulations pertaining to the location and the operation of the boats have to be complied with
  • Use of adequate, properly identified and segregated containers for the storage of hazardous wastes
  • Use of adequate litter bins, including recycling bins
  • Correct disposal of all wastes produced by the tourists and the tour operator
  • Use of recyclable products, biodegradable materials and environmentally friendly toiletries and cleaning products
  • Smoking should be prohibited on the boats
  • Correct treatment of bilge water
  • Provision of adequate sanitary facilities with correct sewage disposal
  • Repair and paint works on the boats must be limited to specifically designated areas
  • Promotion of sustainable means of transportation from and to the boats
  • Report of accidents that might cause environmental damages
  • Speed and engine maintenance of the boats must be aimed at maximising energy efficiency and minimising pollution
  • Environmentally friendly anchoring
  • Correct disposal of boats that have reached the end of their life service

Safety and services

  • Provision of adequate and well-signposted lifesaving, first-aid and fire-fighting equipment which has been approved by relevant national authorities
  • Provision of emergency plans for different possible kinds of accidents and regular emergency trainings for the crew
  • Safety precautions and information must be presented on the boat
  • Facilities for people with disabilities should be in place
  • Adequate signage indicating the location of the different facilities on the boats

Social responsibility

  • Discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, origin or religious affiliation should not be accepted within the tour operator
  • Payment of fair salaries according to the respective income level in the country
  • The legal working age in the respective country should be respected
  • The tour operator should support the local economy by choosing to buy and use local products

Responsible tourism

  • Vulnerable and protected areas must be respected
  • Any wildlife must be approached at a slow speed and in a manner that allows the animal(s) to evaluate the situation. They must not be encircled, trapped or chased
  • Special precaution must be taken in the vicinity of breeding animals. Young animals must not be separated from their group
  • When in the direct vicinity of any wildlife, noise must be reduced to a minimum and the engine should be put into neutral whenever appropriate
  • No animals or plants are to be touched or collected
  • Tourists and employees must not feed the animals
  • If there are any signs of disturbance, the boat must increase its distance from the animals
  • The tour operator should be open to cooperation with research institutions. The company’s vessel might function as a research platform, and collected data of wildlife sightings should be made available to researchers
  • Injured, entangled, stranded or dead animals must be reported to the local authorities

Additional criteria for specific wildlife-based activities

The criteria presented above apply to all tour operators that want to be awarded the Blue Flag. In addition, tour operators that offer whale watching, bird watching, seal watching, cage diving, recreational fishing and diving have to comply with additional criteria for the respective activity. These criteria are tailored to the different tourist experiences and take into account the specific environmental issues related to them. They include for example approach distances to different animal species, the correct use of equipment and the humane handling of animals that are caught during recreational fishing tours.


  1. "Brat ghorm don Béal Bán". (in Irish).
  2. "EUROPA - EURES - Page Title".
  3. Bysted A/S. "FEE - Foundation for Environmental Education". Retrieved 21 May 2010.
  4. "Blue Flag Website". Foundation for Environmental Education. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  5. Blue Flag beaches/marinas Archived 11 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 11 February 2010.
  6. "It's official: Spain has the best beaches in the whole world". 6 May 2016.
  7. "". Archived from the original on 11 September 2013. Retrieved 7 August 2009.
  8. "Blue Flag sites". Blue Flag.
  9. "The World Factbook — Central Intelligence Agency".
  10. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 May 2017. Retrieved 10 May 2017.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. "Photo". Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  12. "THE BLUE FLAG IN CASSIS". Retrieved 26 December 2018.
  13. Willy Legrand, Philip Sloan and Joseph S. Chen Sustainability in the Hospitality Industry 2nd Ed: Principles of Sustainable Operations, p. 285, at Google Books
  14. Rob Harris, Peter Williams and Tony Griffin (editors) Sustainable Tourism, p. 90, at Google Books
  15. "European Commission - PRESS RELEASES - Press release - BLUE FLAG OF EUROPE". Retrieved 26 December 2018.
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