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The Ecological Blue Flag
The tourist industry here estimates that three-quarters of visitors to Costa Rica make a beach excursion. With that in mind, the national water utility, Acueductos y Alcantarillados (AyA), in conjunction with the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, began evaluating and ranking water and environmental quality in coastal communities in 1996. Those that achieved at least a 90% score were awarded a Bandera Azul Ecológica (ecological Blue Flag) to fly as a symbol of excellence. The program, modeled on one begun in Spain in 1986, awards flags as prizes for communities. Participants are required to form a Blue Flag committee, a move that brings together diverse sectors of an area's population, many of which otherwise fiercely compete for tourist dollars. The program has prompted communities to put resources into improving environmental quality of life for themselves and for their guests.
Blue Flag locales receive year-round inspections of water quality—both ocean and drinking water—trash cleanup, waste management, security, signage, and environmental education. (Winners dare not rest on their laurels: a few know the shame of having their flags yanked.) In 2002, the competition was opened to inland communities; 2006 saw schools recognized; eco-friendly businesses and institutions were added in 2008. (Even an exceptionally green auto mechanic shop in San José was awarded a flag at the 2012 ceremony.)
Blue flags fly proudly in the following locations covered in this book:
Carrizal (Alajuela), Heredia.
La Fortuna, La Selva Biological Station, Las Horquetas, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, San Rafael de Heredia, Vara Blanca.
Bahía Junquillal, Nosara (Playa Guiones, Playa Pelada), Ostional, Playa Avellanas, Playa Carrillo, Playa Conchal, Playa Flamingo, Playa Hermosa, Playa Junquillal, Playa Langosta, Playa Pan de Azúcar, Playa Panamá, Playa Potrero, Punta Islita, Sámara.
Curú National Wildlife Refuge, Isla Tortuga, Malpaís, Manuel Antonio (Playa Manuel Antonio, Playa Espadilla Norte, Playa Espadilla Sur, Playa Gemelas), Playa El Carmen, Playa Hermosa, Puntarenas, Punta Leona (Playa Blanca, Playa Limoncito, Playa Mantas), Rain Forest Adventures, Santa Teresa.
Ballena National Marine Park, Barú, Cabo Matapalo, Las Cruces Biological Station, Playa Nicuesa, Playa Pavones, Puerto Jiménez (Playa Blanca), San Gerardo de Rivas, San Marcos de Tarrazú.
Cahuita (Puerto Vargas, Playa Blanca, Playa Negra), EARTH, Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (Playa Chiquita, Playa Cocles, Punta Uva), Rain Forest Adventures.
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