Two major developments this year places Greece’s Blue Flag program on a much higher level than ever before.
Firstly, the country picked up an all-time record of Blue Flags with 351 flags and for beaches and eight for marinas (a listing can be found at www://blueflags.org.), which compares with 319 and eight received last year and a total of 15 received in 1988, the first year of the program.
Secondly, and perhaps just as important, is that the private sector has seen the worth of the program. After 14 years of only government support, Alpha Bank has stepped in to take on the program’s expenses. Panagiotis Louris, deputy manager of bank, says little attention was paid to the Blue Flag program in the beginning but as the years went by it just kept getting better and better.
“It is now at a point where we think it is very well organized and very well run, and well worth the millions we will invest in it,” he said. The bank has set aside 50 million drachmas for the program, compared with about 30 million received in the past from government.
Aliki Vavouri, of the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature, which is the national operator for the European clean beach awards, said that perhaps the best part of the program is that finally municipalities have gotten involved. Not to mention the 380 volunteers in the program. This involvement increases their knowledge of environmental controls and protection.
Referring to this year’s program, she said that each successful community applicant has the right to fly the flag on its beach or marina property from June 1 to the end of October. At that time, the flag, which is recyclable, must be returned to the foundation.
The campaign is an award scheme that targets local authorities that manage coastal areas for recreation and tourism. The program uses a total of 27 criteria, which are under continued development and evaluation. If during the year a national or international inspector finds that a beach or marina no longer adheres to all criteria, the flag will be withdrawn. Last year 14 flags were taken down from Greek beaches. International inspectors come from the head organization, the Foundation for Environmental Education in Europe.
Local authorities that wish to participate in the program must show how they work with environment management and how they distribute information and education on their coastal resources. For 2002, completed applications must reach the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature’s office in downtown Athens or by email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Greek society says that most problems occur not because of any deficiency in the candidates’ beach, but rather in their problem to have water samples tested every 15 days as required. The bathing water itself is most likely clean as the works ministry says tests this year have shown that 98.8% of all Greek waters are safe for swimming. The European foundation spot-checks at least 5% of all blue flag winners to ensure each adheres to every criteria.