Beach certifications: One more step towards integrated management

When we visit a beach, we seek to enjoy the sun, the sand, and the sea. Thanks to integrated beach management, it is possible to enjoy these spaces safely and in an orderly manner. But not all beaches have management schemes, and the beaches that do have one are promoted more as tourist destinations, either nationally or internationally. This national and international recognition is driven by international awards – such as Blue Flag – or beach certification schemes (national or regional) – such as Coastal Landscape (awarded by the PROPLAYAS Network), Playa Platino (awarded by the Mexican Institute of Standardization and Certification AC, in Mexico), or the NMX-AA-120-SCFI-2016 or White Flag (granted by SEMARNAT in Mexico). There are many certification schemes, and each country may have more than one.

A beach certification scheme (BCS) is understood as a recognition that is made to a beach for achieving management that ensures its exemplary environmental performance while maintaining the social and economic function of tourist activity. When obtaining a certification, there is room for improvement in the parameters requested by the scheme. Therefore, there is almost always a gradation in the management qualification. The beaches and their management schemes are evaluated every year, although withdrawing a certification may take up to three years; for that period of improvement, the beach manager has to achieve better evaluation scores based on the minimum standards of each parameter to be evaluated.

Unlike BCSs, awards (or eco-labels) are awarded once all the parameters to qualify are fully met; for the same reason, if any parameter no longer meets the minimum requirements, the recognition is withdrawn in its entirety. In addition, they are typically awarded every year.

To start the certification process or request for international award, a beach must already have a beach management scheme, because the BCS is a stand-alone certification and does not replace integral beach management. Furthermore, without prior management, it is sometimes not possible to start the certification process. For this reason, those beaches that want to be promoted as competitive tourist destinations must have a robust management scheme, which scores points with the certifications and awards it can obtain.

Requesting the BCS is in itself a challenge, and maintaining it is a long-term career. The beach manager must make resources to implement management actions such as the purchase of rescue equipment and cleaning of beaches; pay employee salaries – administrative and operational in the field; print signage; maintain the tourist infrastructure; cover the expenses of specialized consultancies that advise in the process of requesting the award or certification; make daily surveillance inspections and monthly reports. In short, the management of a beach requires monetary resources but also a lot of trained personnel. All of this so that visitors can enjoy a clean and safe beach in their leisure time.

Worldwide, the Blue Flag recognition/award/eco-label is the most famous and widely used to give visibility to beaches as competitive tourist destinations globally. Blue Flag operates under the auspices of the Copenhagen, Denmark-based Foundation for Environmental Education. This distinction has four criteria to be evaluated before being awarded: environmental education, environmental management, services and safety, and water quality. Each has requirements to be covered by a certain number of aspects that can be mandatory or voluntary. The environmental education criterion is what distinguishes Blue Flag from other awards or BCS. For example, this criterion has six requirements to be covered, all of them mandatory. To meet these six requirements, a total of twenty-eight aspects must be covered. Those interested in delving into the criteria, requirements, and aspects that the Blue Flag recognition evaluates can review the workshop developed within the framework of the project STOREM E+.

Based on the above, it is possible to appreciate that beach management awards and certifications are the most refined elements of an integrated beach management scheme. They serve to polish the details that the management scheme already foresees, identify areas for improvement, incorporate new elements, and with all this, provide recognition of  outstanding tourist beaches at a national and international level. As responsible tourists, visiting the entities´ websites that grant awards or certifications can become a good practice, which will pay off in a more pleasant vacation at the beach paradise of our choice.

A certified beach under the Blue Flag program. Photo by Griffin Guiding.

Author: Ulsia Urrea Mariño

I am a Ph.D. student at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in the Coastal and Marine System Science program, Master in Urban Studies at COLMEX, and Undergraduate in Sustainable Management of Coastal Zones at UNAM. My professional research lines are: the Mexican's beach management, the integral management of solid waste in coastal localities, anthropological analysis of fishers, examines on Mexican legislation on seas and coasts, the study of urban development since tourism and climate change points of view, and the Mexican ocean energy. The areas of work where I have developed my studies have been the North Mexican Pacific, The Gulf of Mexico, and The Mexican Caribbean Sea. I am also a documentalist and member of RICOMAR, IBERMAR, PROPLAYAS, Centro Tepoztlán Víctor L. Urquidi, and Kellogg Fellows Leadership Alliance networks.

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