Last updated: 02:40 PM ET, Wed December 09 2015

Caribbean Destinations Waving the Blue Flag of Environmental Excellence

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | March 02, 2015

Caribbean Destinations Waving the Blue Flag of Environmental Excellence

Photo: Fajardo’s Palomino Island last month received Blue Flag environmental certification. (Photo by Brian Major)

Brilliant blue water, white sandy beaches and lush green flora and fauna are the Caribbean’s historic landmarks, natural treasures that invariably symbolize what is often described as the world’s most tourism-dependent region.

Facing growing, mostly man-made, threats to this magnificent natural environment, Caribbean governments, tourism agencies and organizations are engaged in several initiatives to preserve this crucial legacy. Among the most noteworthy of these is Blue Flag certification, which recognizes excellence in sustainability development and practices at beaches and marinas in coastal areas frequented by tourists.

A handful of Caribbean destinations have recently earned Blue Flag certification, which is awarded by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), an international not-for-profit, non-governmental agency based in Copenhagen, Denmark. The latest recipient is Palomino Island, a private, 100-acre resort area at the El Conquistador Resort & Las Casitas Village, Waldorf Astoria Resorts in Fajardo.

Palomino Island was awarded Blue Flag certification in February. Certification is based on compliance with 32 beach and 24 marina criteria dealing with environmental education and information, management, water quality and safety. To retain Blue Flag status, destinations are required to maintain the criteria and undergo a certification review each season.

El Conquistador’s other sustainability initiatives include the use of treated water for the property’s golf course, the harvesting of local ingredients for dining outlets and the use of room keys made from 43 percent recycled materials. El Conquistador also utilizes fuel-saving boats to transport guests to and from Palomino Island.

Several other Caribbean resorts and destinations achieved Blue Flag certification in 2014. Trinidad’s Las Cuevas Beach received the designation in September; the award was presented in a Jan. 16, 2015 ceremony attended by officials from the Tourism Development Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited (TDC) and Trinidad’s ministry of tourism.

“This award reaffirms TDC’s commitment to capitalizing on the value that sustainable growth and development brings to our destination,” said Keith Chin, TDC’s chief executive. “We will continue to work with the Blue Flag organization to certify other beaches in Trinidad and Tobago within the coming months.”

Also in January St. Maarten’s Oyster Bay Beach Resort received Blue Flag certification, joining Divi Little Bay Beach and Isle de Sol Marina as other island properties to be granted the coveted distinction. St. Maarten is the only Dutch Caribbean destination with Blue Flag-certified locations according to St. Maarten Tourist Bureau officials.

“Thank you to the management and staff who have worked hard to keep the resort’s beach eco-friendly and consistent with Blue Flag standards,” said Marla Chemont, the St. Maarten Tourist Bureau’s interim director of marketing. 

Finally, the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA) in January signed a memorandum of understanding with FEE, recognizing the Blue Flag and Green Key programs, in addition to highlighting CHTA’s own Caribbean sustainability initiatives.

Similar to the Blue Flag program, Green Key is an exclusive FEE designation for tourism accommodations, attractions and restaurants operating model sustainability initiatives in categories that include environmental management and involvement and communication with staff and guests.

The CHTA/FEE memorandum will be used to guide future joint initiatives from the organizations, according to officials. “Certainly protecting our environment and being a responsible industry are important reasons to support sustainable development,” said Emil Lee, CHTA’s president.

“However, there are even more profound reasons to integrate green policies into everything we do,” Lee added. “The Caribbean is our home. We want to live in beautiful places with clean water and a healthy environment.  We want our children to be able to swim in our oceans, eat the fish from the sea and fruits from our trees without fear."

“Additionally, being efficient is good for our environment but is also good for profitability, which translates into stronger economies, better infrastructure and more jobs.”   

“We have a history of successful cooperation with CHTA in connection with the implementation of the Blue Flag program in the Caribbean starting 15 years ago,” said Jan Eriksen, FEE’s president. His group is “happy now to formalize” the groups’ collaborative efforts, Eriksen said.  

Established in 1981, FEE is comprised of international non-profit, non-government member organizations active in promoting, developing and managing environmental education programs for sustainable development, eco-tourism, education, training of staff and awareness-raising and management.

FEE maintains partnerships with the United National World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“By signing this cooperative agreement with FEE, CHTA reaffirms its commitment to sustainable development,” said Lee. “The partnership gives CHTA members an excellent road map for our members to follow.”

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