Turkey goes ‘eco beach’ Didim: as case in point

July 03, 2012, Tuesday/ 18:12:00

Whereas one would rightly expect that destinations such as Antalya or Çeşme top Turkey’s list of resort towns offering the highest number of Blue Flag-certified beaches within their municipal boundaries, there is another welcome Blue Flag development happening all along Turkey’s Sunshine Belt, stretching along the coast from Ayvalık to Mersin.

The new boom in “eco beaches” may not immediately outperform Antalya or Çeşme by numbers but most definitely does by overall commitment.

Domestic as well as international holidaymakers arriving in Didim, a Turkish tourism hotspot situated a short drive away from recently renovated Milas-Bodrum International Airport, as well as those arriving to İzmir Adnan Menderes Airport, can now benefit from even more Blue Flag-certified public beaches as well as one state-of-the-art marina-based swimming opportunity.

Last week the Turkish branch of the globally active Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), which is in charge of the voluntary program, announced the certification of another Blue Flag beach -- up for regular inspection leading to re-certification if accreditation requirements are continuously met -- during a public ceremony. In less than a decade Turkey more than doubled the number of its certified beaches and now boasts 355, plus a further 19 Blue Flag swimming opportunities located within the boundaries of Turkish marinas.

In Didim alone the number of Blue Flags hoisted prominently at the entrance to beaches has risen to 11. Turkey is now ranked fourth in the world for the number of such beaches.

The concept behind the Blue Flag originated in France in the year 1985. According to the FEE, at the time French coastal municipalities were awarded with the Blue Flag for complying with sewage treatment and bathing water quality criteria.

The Foundation for Environmental Education in Europe (FEEE) presented its ideas for a broader certification program to the European Commission two years later and the EC recognized the Blue Flag as an important activity that year, this support making it ultimately sustainable.

By now a global organization and having dropped one “E” from its acronym, the FEE is a nongovernment, nonprofit organization active in 64 countries in charge of administering the Blue Flag accreditation system. The voluntary eco-label has been awarded to 3,849 beaches and marinas across Europe, South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada and the Caribbean.

Blue Flag criteria include water quality, environmental education and information, environmental management and public safety.

From my recent visit to the area and from having witnessed how proactively local media covered the “certified add-ons,” it seems clear that Turkish authorities as well as residents both foreign and Turkish have discovered the importance of establishing top-notch environmental standards both on and off the beach, aka in the warm southern Aegean waters.

If something is still missing, though -- except for of course the continuous increase of other local beaches being accredited as Blue Flag-ready -- it is improved signposts not just along the certified beach areas but on the roads and streets leading to them, too, as not every local or tourist may know where to go for a swim.

Pollution in busy vacation resorts is indeed a persistent nuisance prevalent in far too many tourism destinations around the world yet should and most definitely can be remedied. Education at home, at school and with regards to the Blue Flag accreditation system on the beach, too, seems to be a worthwhile route to pursue to preserve our water quality and keep sandy beaches sandy and clean. Above all else, we want to have our younger generation appreciate that a clean environment is -- if nothing else -- a vital survival tool for them and their very own future children.