The Blue Flag is an internationally recognized environmental award, made to marinas and beaches worldwide, which demonstrate excellent safety facilities and good environment standards. The award is based on the compliance with the standards established by the Blue Flags, including water quality standards, general environmental management and provision of services.
Founded in 1985 in France, the Blue Flag has managed to spread quickly to other non-European countries and establish its strict criteria. As of 2005, 2,472 beaches and 635 marinas received the Blue Flag award. Spain has the largest number of Blue Flag beaches (478), followed by such countries as Greece (383), France (274), Denmark (212), Italy (205), Portugal (191) and Turkey (174). The Blue Flag is awarded by the Foundation for Environmental Education for one season only.
In order to receive the award of the European Blue Flag, a beach must meet 27 criteria, covering such aspects as environmental education and information, environmental management, water quality and safety and services. Blue Flag beaches must adhere to relevant standards, like the EU Bathing Water Directive; present local emergency plans dealing with pollution accidents; and make sure that no sewage-related or industrial discharges affect the beach area.
Additionally, the beaches must meet requirements for effluent quality and sewage treatment, contained in the EU Urban Waste Water Directive. The Blue Flag beaches are also responsible for displaying information concerning natural sensitive areas in coastal zone, as well as fauna and flora, while the beach operators bear responsibility for displaying publicly information about quality of bathing water; displaying information about the Blue Flag; and removing the Blue Flag if some of the criteria are no longer fulfilled.
Together with the local community, the beach operator should be able to show that five and more environmental activities are available at the beach. The local community should also have the Environmental Interpretation Center dealing with the coastal environment, or the Blue Flag Center providing information about the Blue Flag award. Blue Flag beaches should have a development plan for their coastal zones, which together with the community's activities must comply with coastal zone protection regulations and planning regulations. Beaches must also possess adequate number of regularly maintained and properly secured litter bins.
Those beaches where parking is allowed should feature designated areas for parking and car-free zones, as well as safe access to the beach. It is also recommended that beaches should have clean sanitary facilities and facilities for receiving recyclable waste materials. During the bathing season the beach must have guards on duty and adequate safety provisions, like lifesaving equipment and immediate access to a telephone. Beach guards must be trained in accordance with the national requirements, established by professional associations or authorities.
As for lifesaving equipment, it should be of a type approved by national guarding bodies.