Waving a Blue Flag
TCI’s “Beautiful by Nature” beaches are now certified.
By Don Stark, Chairman, Turks & Caicos Reef Fund (www.TCReef.org)
Everyone who spends any time in the Turks & Caicos, and especially on Grace Bay, knows that these islands have some of the best beaches in the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean. And that’s not just local bragging. Grace Bay Beach has consistently been rated in the top tier of beaches by several prestigious travel magazines. But did you know that for several years now, an internationally-recognized, non-profit group has certified three beaches in the Turks & Caicos Islands as being not only pristine, but also having facilities that provide environmental education information, environmental management information and safety services?
The Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) operates a beach and marine certification program called the Blue Flag Program. The Turks & Caicos Reef Fund (TCRF) is an Associate Member of FEE and the National Operator for the Blue Flag Program in the TCI.
FEE is a non-governmental, non-profit organization that promotes sustainable development through environmental education. It is an international umbrella organization with one national member organization per country representing FEE on the national level and in charge of implementing FEE programs nationally. FEE currently has 75 member organizations in 64 countries worldwide. TCRF is the member organization for the TCI.
Although relatively unknown in the US, many Europeans use the Blue Flag Beach and Marina Certification program as a guide to where they want to spend their holidays. So, having beaches in the TCI flying the Blue Flag should make these islands even more attractive to potential European visitors.
The Blue Flag Program was brought to the TCI in 2008 by the Department of Environmental and Coastal Resources (DECR) under the guidance of then-Director Wesley Clerveaux, who saw the program as a critical part of the marketing strategy for the Islands as the TCI Tourist Board began to promote the country more heavily in the European markets. In 2010, FEE granted the TCRF an associate membership, which cleared the way for the TCRF to take over management of the Blue Flag Program from the DECR. In May 2010, the TCRF and DECR signed a memorandum of understanding that outlined in detail how the two groups would work together to transition Blue Flag management to TCRF. Re-certification of the three Blue Flag beaches for the 2012 season was conducted by the TCRF for the first time with the help of a National Jury comprised of ten individuals representing watersports operators, cultural affairs, health and safety, education, environmental protection and management and tourism. They assisted the TCRF management in evaluating whether the three Blue Flag Beaches continued to meet the 32 criteria in order to fly the Blue Flag.
The TCRF hopes to work with local hotel operators to bring the Blue Flag program to more TCI beaches. Expanding the number of Blue Flag beaches will make these islands even more appealing to new visitors.
In addition to flying a distinctive Blue Flag, each beach must provide recent water quality testing results (done every two weeks), information about the Blue Flag program and FEE, educational information about the eco-system in the beach area, proper beach etiquette information (such as, “Don’t touch the coral!”), waste disposal and safety information and equipment. The beach also must be clean of debris. So if you see a Blue Flag flying over a beach, you can be assured it is a well-maintained and safe place for all your beach activities.
For more information or to make a donation, visit www.tcreef.org
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Cover photographer Christine Morden works for Paradise Photography www.myparadisephoto.com , a full service boutique company based in the TCI. She especially enjoyed the Rejouvenance photo shoot to learn about the benefits of coconuts and to smell the amazing scents of their hand-crafted products.