Greek island sands the standard on 408 clean beaches.
It's a bumper year for the Greek Islands in 2014 as its holiday beaches notch up a total of 408 prestigious Blue Flag awards for safe, clean sands and another 10 awards for boat marinas. Greece now ranks number two in the world for the number of quality beach awards after reigning in 16 more awards than last year's 393 for clean beaches and nine for well-run marinas.
Blue Flag awards are the gold standard in the tourism industry with a programme of environmental protection now implemented by 51 countries across the world through the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE).
The Blue Flag label has been an international symbol of quality and cleanliness worldwide since 1987 when the first flags were handed out to beach resorts and boat marinas that met very strict standards for cleanliness and safety.
The International Jury handed out more than 4,000 awards worldwide this year for beaches that pass 33 strict criteria relating to cleanliness, organization, information, safety, protection for nature and environmental awareness while marinas must meet 25 quality standards.
The Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature operates the scheme in Greece and the Greek Islands. Founded in 1951, HSPN is the oldest Greek environmental organisation and operates throughout the country for the protection of nature.
The environmental group has been at the forefront of efforts to establish National Parks across Greece and the Greek Islands, to protect habitats and threatened species of fauna and flora, and to modernise and implement environmental legislation.
Those beach resorts that pass the strict tests are allowed to fly a Blue Flag over the sands so that visitors know it to be a safe, clean and well looked after beach. Inspectors make spot checks of beach resorts throughout the year to ensure compliance with the strict rules.
Any problems or failures could lead to temporary or permanent lowering the Blue Flag and even the removal of beach or marina from the Greek and international program site. Many major travel companies pick out the Blue Flag status of resorts when recommending destinations to their customers.
To win a Blue Flag beach resort must show that bathing water is clean as confirmed by spot checks and analysis, adequate litter bins and periodic cleaning of the beach of rubbish. Other factors include a ban on vehicles on the beach, ho unauthorised camping and adequate sanitary facilities.