Greece slipped into third place in the numbers of Blue Flag beach quality awards this year. A total of 395 beaches and nine marinas across Greece and the Greek Islands picked up the prestigious Blue Flag awards.
Greece came third after Spain topped the list with 578 beaches, followed by Turkey with 436 beaches awarded the blue flag. Greece was second last year.
in 2014 a total of 408 Blue Flags were awarded to Greek beaches, 15 more than the 303 awarded in 2013 but this dropped to 370 after 38 beaches were stripped of their Blue Flags last summer after failing spot checks.
Most the Greek beaches that lost the coveted Blue Flag status were on the island of Corfu. Only seven beaches on Corfu qualify for flags this year, down 23 on 2014.
The Blue Flag is awarded to beaches that meet strict standards on the quality of seawater, cleanliness, the organisation of the swimming area, the safety of bathers and protection of the environment.
The awards are issued annually around May or June to participating countries in Europe, Canada and North Africa. Blue Flags are awarded to beaches in the Caribbean, New Zealand, South Africa and other southern hemisphere countries in November each year.
The international coordinator of the program is the Denmark-based Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), with 63 member-countries from all over the world.
In Greece, FEE is represented by EEPF, the oldest environmental organisation in the country, founded in 1951, which plays an active role in environmental and conservation projects across Greece and the Greek Islands.
Greek tourism officials will be disappointed at losing out to both Spain and Turkey, their two biggest rivals in beach holidays in the Mediterranean.
Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) president, Elissavet Hatzinikolaou, said Greece can top next year's awards if more effort is made by local authorities and tourism professionals.
She told a tourism meeting that most holiday visitors were drawn to Greece by the high quality of its beach resorts.
"For this demand, our comparative advantage is the country's clear waters and the quality and purity of the mainland coast and our islands," she said.
To gain a Blue Flag, beaches must pass inspection on a total of 32 criteria. Beaches must not only be clean, but they must also be well organised with visitor information and safety measures in place as well as have active projects aimed at protecting the coastal environment.
Bathing water quality is tested with random tests and beach inspectors check for industrial and municipal discharge and for litter.
First aid equipment must be available and trained lifeguards on duty at peak times. Beaches that win the accolade can fly the distinctive blue and white flag.
More than 4000 sites were awarded the world's leading eco-label for the 2015 season by the Blue Flag International Jury in Copenhagen, Denmark.
For a full list of Blue Flag beaches in Greece and the Greek Islands visit the EEPF website.