California and Florida beaches win international award

An internationally recognized symbol of a safe, well-maintained beach with excellent water quality and facilities, the Blue Flag flies over more than 4,200 beaches on five continents and Pacific island nations. Starting this year, two beaches in the continental US are entitled to fly their own Blue Flag.

what you need to know

  • Two beaches, one in Malibu, California and the other in Delray Beach, Florida, have been awarded Blue Flags, internationally recognized quality seals
  • Around 4,200 beaches around the world have received Blue Flag designations; Westward Beach and Delray Beach Municipal Beach are the first in the continental United States
  • The Blue Flag program recognizes water quality, beach quality, accessibility, sustainable practices and educational programs

The United States received its first two Blue Flag designations for beaches within the union: Westward Beach in Malibu, Calif., and Delray Beach Municipal Beach, in Delray Beach, Fla. (The territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. … have beaches that have already received the honor.)

“Being one of the first, and a first on the West Coast, really shows the work that goes into maintaining this beach and taking care of it responsibly,” said Porsche Nauls, coastal planner for the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches. and Ports. “This is showing internationally.”

“Life in Malibu revolves around enjoying our beautiful natural surroundings: the ocean, the beaches, the mountains. That is why we fight so fiercely to protect them,” Malibu Mayor Bruce Silverstein said at an event on Thursday. “It is important that among the criteria to receive the Blue Flag award is environmentally responsible tourism. As stewards of the natural beauty that attracts millions of visitors each year, we need the public to know and accept that responsibility. We can only protect our environment if we are all involved in the mission and the effort.”

The Blue Flag is essentially a waving seal of quality, meant to show bathers that not only are the water and facilities excellent, but that beach managers care about keeping their visitors safe, their environment protected and their easily accessible water and sand. for all. Also, according to the Foundation for Environmental Education, Blue Flag’s parent organization, it intends to promote sustainable tourism.

Blue Flag certification was first awarded in 1985, as part of a pilot program celebrating the quality of beach water in French coastal communities. In 1987, the program spread to European beaches and went international after the turn of the millennium: there are now a total of 5036 Blue Flag sites around the world, including beaches, marinas and sustainable tourism boats, according to the count of 2023 of the organization.

In the United States, the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association administers Blue Flag USA. In 2021, four beaches, including Westward Beach, Galveston Island in Texas, Lovers Key State Park in Florida, and Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii, were named Blue Flag pilot sites in 2021, entering the home stretch toward the award. Delray Beach became a Blue Flag candidate in February 2022.

Gary Jones, Los Angeles County director of beaches and harbors and current president of the ASBPA, had known about the program since his youth, growing up in his native Britain. Seeing a blue flag on a beach was a big factor in whether or not people spent time on those beaches.

“It was something that, along the south coast of England, the beaches around Bournemouth would be promoted a lot as ‘award winning beaches’ as part of their marketing,” Jones recalled. “I knew firsthand how that translated to someone who wants to spend a day at the beach.”

Westward Beach is a long, wide, and relatively quiet beach near Malibu’s Point Dume and just south of Zuma Beach, one of Los Angeles County’s most popular and beloved beaches.

And that’s saying something: Los Angeles County has no shortage of great beaches. But Westward Beach, and the larger setting of Zuma, was chosen by the county to be its entry into the country’s first batch of Blue Flag beaches because it “wanted to come from a starting point where we knew we had a reasonable chance.” Jones said. saying.

(Jones, who became ASBPA president in 2022, said he was not involved in the jury process that led to Westward Beach becoming an international Blue Flag judge.)

“Frankly, it’s a spectacular beach. It’s well-loved, we get many, many visitors, it’s recognizable from film and TV shoots, and it’s a beautiful stretch of coastline,” she added.

Each Blue Flag beach must provide an application that satisfies more than 30 criteria and must be re-certified each year. Even then, the flag should not be flown when the beach does not meet those criteria. And Los Angeles County’s Blue Flag award, in particular, will only fly during the summer season, from May 25 to September 30, largely because Southern California’s rainy season wreaks havoc on water quality. on local beaches. In Los Angeles County, stormwater runoff from storm drains near the coast leads directly into the water. To be sure, Jones said, it made sense to focus on the part of the year when beach water quality is best and most in line with national and international guidelines.

The way Southern California developed and California’s water sampling requirements and coastal profiles distinguish the state’s water from the way other beaches are used and accessed.

“That’s definitely part of the complexity of administering this award at the national level,” Jones said.

Meanwhile, the Delray Beach flag will fly all year until next May.

“With the Atlantic Ocean at our doorstep, Delray Beach is proud to have a beautiful, world-class beach to call our own,” Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia said in a press release. “I am especially grateful for the dedicated individuals who have worked so hard to ensure that our natural beach is safe, accessible, and that beachgoers are informed about our conservation initiatives.”

The dunes in Delray Beach play a role in those initiatives by harboring threatened and endangered plants, city public works director Missy Barletto told WPBF.

“Our sites have worked hard for several months to implement and maintain more than 30 diverse criteria to achieve award status. Their staff and communities can proudly fly their flags for going beyond US standards to receive international recognition for sustainable management practices,” said Annie Mercer, ASBPA Program Coordinator.