The Blue Flag: 30 years of Eco Guidance

Blue Flag celebrates the 30th Anniversay (photo - VVW Nieuwpoort)

  • Eco-objectives converge in 2017 which marks the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development and the adoption of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
  • TransEurope Marinas joins with the Blue Flag in celebrating a 30th Anniversary and the importance of collaborative, far-sighted environmental management.

TransEurope Marinas is an association of over 70 marinas across Europe, with a number of members who have been dedicated followers of the Blue Flag programme for twenty years. An established culture of environmental management and education has led many marinas to start thinking beyond their boundaries; taking proactive steps to enlighten themselves and others about sensitive nearby areas or about the best way to reduce an impact on the local environment. Members regularly share ideas and import successful solutions to their own marinas.

There is no doubt that our seas and coastlines comprise a stimulating and challenging environment. A beautiful local sailing arena is a dramatically valuable asset for yacht harbours, but it is clear that local ecosystems require vigilance, protection and maintenance to remain healthy; in simple terms, how much nicer to sail out in clean seas, uncluttered by flotsam and jetsam and enjoy the pleasures of observing marine and birdlife than drifting over a seabed littered with discarded rubbish and devoid of life?

Blue Flag criteria identify the following four priorities:

  1. Environmental education and information
  2. Environmental management
  3. Safety and service facilities
  4. Water quality

It is relevant that education and information appears at the top of the list. Across the board, members have sought out ways to both inform themselves and then communicate this knowledge in order to teach and inspire.

Engaging with local conservationists or wildlife enthusiasts can open up an immense vista of fascinating insights revealing the extraordinary sophistication and complexity of local marine habitats; similarly, unless endangered species or marine protected areas are clearly identified as such, visitors are less likely to be able to make informed decisions.

Vida Marina en Puerto Deportivo de GijónPuerto Deportivo Gijón in Asturas, have joined forces with biologists to help identify the local sealife and then gone on to study the existence of exotic and invasive species in their waters. They have even prepared publications documenting their results and also handed out advice on good environmental practice.  Like others, they have also organised open days for various sectors of the local community to help promote more informed interaction with the marina sphere.

In Belgian marina VVW Nieuwpoort where a significant increase in water quality over the last few years has meant that wildlife has started to return to the marina, they now have six resident seals. Communication with visitors and berth-holders provides further beneficial results:

“At several places in the marina we’ve put up information boards informing everybody about the bird and wildlife in the marina, which is then mentioned regularly on Facebook. We see our members and guests checking the board to identify their sightings, making them more aware of their presence. We hope this increased awareness will eventually lead our members to take more care of their habitat.”

Blue Flag

Puerto Calero’s map of sensitive nearby areas

Lanzarote in the Canaries enjoys the status of a Biosphere Reserve; a designation that celebrates man’s respectful interaction with his landscape, wildlife, and cultural heritage. Along the lee coasts of Lanzarote and the neighbouring isle, up to a third of the world’s cetacean species have been identified, with many observations reported by visiting and local sailors. When sailors staying in Puerto Calero requested more information, the marina team sought the advice of local and national conservation groups and produced a panel that locates and describes the nearby sensitive areas; detailing species of interest, their characteristics and the most common threats to their survival.

Quinta do Lorde Marina, located in a Green Key resort, is another member based in Macaronesia, one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. There the team follows similar strategies of cooperation between marina, social and conservation stakeholders: museu baleia exposicao captains-1

“We encourage the promotion of scientific studies on the marine biodiversity of the area and the use of renewable energy sources in the operation of the marina. For this, we are associated with the Department of Biology of the University of Madeira – UMa and we have a protocol established with MARE (scientific research to seek excellence in the study of aquatic ecosystems and disseminate knowledge to support policies for sustainable development).”

Educational activities for this year at Quinta do Lorde include raising awareness about the negative impact of rubbish in protected wildlife areas, composting and tree planting. They too have studied the biodiversity within their own marina and the threat of microorganisms arriving on overseas sailing yachts and have housed exhibitions that juxtapose the beauty and magnificence of local cetaceans, with maritime pollution.

Despite steps taken to reduce a carbon footprint, addressing contamination concerns and switching to less harmful products and behaviours, many problems still remain for the industry: fibre glass boat recycling remains a tricky issue and whilst some ocean-going yachts are able to eliminate the need to use fossil-based fuels, manoeuvring in port under sail for example isn’t currently going to win you many friends in the marina office.

St-Valéry Sur Somme

Port de Saint Valery sur Somme

Tackling existing problems then requires finding resourceful answers. In Saint-Valery-Sur-Somme in the beautiful Somme estuary in northern France, where sports fishing is part of one of the popular leisure pursuits, the marina manager has sought to mitigate some of the harmful effects of the sport by organising trips where fishers are encouraged to change their habits and fish for more sustainable species. He also takes the time to carefully explain how to make use of the currents for the purpose of reducing fuel consumption.

Over in the Netherlands, family-owned Jachthaven Wetterwille, under the helm of managing director Mieke Vleugels CMM, was one of the first national sites to be awarded the Green Pennant for excellence in sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

Jachthaven Wetterville repurposing vintage material.

Jachthaven Wetterville repurposing vintage material.

Over the last three years they have planted a green roof on top of an existing showroom as a camping ground for visitors, equipping a studio with 80% vintage and salvaged goods. This summer, the marina will debut an educational programme against plastic in the water, starting with a big clean-up event timed to take place on the World Water Day (22nd March). “Staff will raise awareness about plastic debris in the water and its devastating effect on local fauna and flora. Recycling bags and fishnets will be handed out with each boat rental and kids – or adults – who return with a full bag of flotsam will get a free ice cream. Jachthaven Wetterwille firmly believes that small actions like these make a big difference and that marina, tenants and berth holders can work together for a cleaner and greener world.”

TransEurope Marinas discuss their individual initiatives, some of which tackle safety concerns; others which serve to inspire confidence out on the water. Members have been inspired by Jachthaven Waterlands’ and Penarth Marinas’ successful fundraising projects and also UK-based initiatives, where the national marine federation runs an excellent support programme via The Yacht Harbour Association (TYHA). There, the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) and TYHA’s Active Marina scheme encourages marinas to work with local RYA schools to promote berth-holders’ productive use of their boats. Examples include local cruises, enabling women or families to improve their boating skills in comfortable tailor-made classes, or introducing recreational sailors to the work of maritime control and rescue services in order to raise awareness about the importance of observing safety regulations and procedures. Reporting the success of these activities within the group has reinforced moves by other European members to connect with their local sailing schools and organise similar convivial and instructional activities in port.

The Green Blue is an environmental sustainability initiative that has been working with the UK recreational marine sector for the last 12 years, bridging the gap between marinas and berth-holders and carrying out free environmental audits for marinas; identifying legal compliance issues, energy reduction opportunities, improved waste management, utility monitoring, environmental management systems and berth-holder environmental education. Sustainability Officer Dan Reading described the project’s development:

“In the past decade, The Green Blue have found that the average boat owner is much more well informed about their impact on the environment as well as the potential impact that is indirectly linked to their vessel, including maintenance and wash down carried out by marina operators. This has led to numerous partnerships that not only have helped improve facilities but also reduce costs for marina operators.

From practical actions such as marking all the surface water drains in the marina to creating recycling signage, the environmental footprint of the marina sector in the UK has improved in the last ten years. There is still more work to be done and schemes such as Blue Flag and Gold Anchor Scheme have been successful in embedding environmental sustainability criteria in their awards which promotes and rewards the marinas efforts.”

Blue water sailors are generally recognised as having a special regard for their impact on their surroundings; they shop carefully to avoid extra packaging, live relatively minimally on board to optimise space and take care not to pollute the waters they sail in; mostly as a reaction to the ugly sight of floating debris and in appreciation of the cohesive dynamic of energies and resources that powers the boat and onboard systems and contributes to providing drinking water and food.

In this way, sailors make very special tourists. They seek to learn about the destination they are travelling to and tend to be respectful and curious visitors. It is clear that they take steps to research environmental cleaning products, sanitary items and other staples. They share energy-free food storage options and some contribute to citizen science projects that help build up data in otherwise inaccessible areas. As such they are suitably demanding customers and a great lead for marinas to follow in terms of marine stewardship.

International Blue Flag Director, Sophie Bachet Granados, offered this inspirational message:

“This year is a special one for Blue Flag International and we take the opportunity to look back on our achievements from the past 30 years. Many marinas have joined our network since 1987, including some from the TransEurope Marinas group. We have witnessed the development of great initiatives from hard-working marinas, which we are very proud of, and thankful for. Our international Blue Flag network enables us to share best practises globally, and we are currently investing in a tool which will also enable us to share with the public. We believe that international cooperation is a very powerful asset, and we encourage anyone, in or out of the Blue Flag network, to be proactive about environmental management and education.”

To learn more about the Blue Flag, visit the website: www.blueflag.global

transeurope marinas

An expanding group of respected marinas offering reciprocal berthing arrangements for their berth-holders across Europe.

Discounted berthing for members from Europe's largest marina network

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