Dubai: The Blue Flag programme in the UAE has awarded seven new flags to beaches in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Fujairah.
The programme aims to promote the sustainable development of beaches and marinas, where the marine environment is at risk as a result of development projects.
“In general, any development project should have an environmental impact assessment, especially for coastal areas that are sensitive,” says Moaz Sawaf, the programme’s manager.
The Blue Flag programme applies 32 criteria in four areas: health, safety, environment and education. To earn the blue flag, beaches and resorts go through a rigorous process where they must submit 20 water samples, taken every 15 days. They must also hold five activities that promote environmental education. In fact, the whole process to receive the blue flag takes about 10 months.
Once the blue flag is received, the beach must continue to test their waters and hold five activities per year. Failure to comply or meet the standards of the programme can lead to withdrawal of the Blue Flag, something that Sawaf says has happened in other countries where the programme is held.
“Blue Flag is very transparent,” says Sawaf, adding that information about the compliance of beaches and resorts with Blue Flag standards is available to the public.
Sawaf explains that different coastal areas face different risks. In the UAE, some beaches are turtle-nesting areas, or are rich in coral and fish resources. The development of resorts and hotels can negatively impact their biodiversity and marine life. If the beach is in a particularly sensitive area, Blue Flag imposes additional criteria to make sure the environment is not damaged or disturbed.
Fujairah’s Le Meridien Al Aqah beach is one of the seven beaches that recently received the blue flag. The hotel’s waters are home to a coral reef, and the hotel is required by the Blue Flag programme to routinely check the health of the reef and restrict activities like fishing and anchoring.
It helps that the hotel was doing this already, according to Sawaf.
Patrick Antaki, the general manager of the hotel, says, “Since the conception of Le Meridien Al Aqah in 2002, protection of the environment and neighbouring waters was one of the paramount priorities for us.”
“Le Meridien Al Aqah has always maintained regular communications with municipalities and government bodies to further protect and maintain marine life around the area along with conducting awareness campaigns within the community and regular analysis of the beach water,” he adds.
The extensive criteria and long preparation period have not discouraged beaches in the UAE from applying to the programme. Part of the reason for this is that having the blue flag makes a big difference to international tourists looking for a place to spend their UAE vacations.
Sawaf says that international tourists are willing to pay more for a Blue Flag hotel because they can be confident that the beach is clean and environmentally-friendly. Sawaf adds that there is a higher level of awareness of the Blue Flag programme internationally than there is within the UAE.
It is too early to tell if this will prove true for Le Meridien Al Aqah, but Antaki says he is confident that maintaining Blue Flag standards will increase the resort’s attraction to tourists.
Other beaches that have received the Blue Flag are the Emirates Palace beach and marina in Abu Dhabi, Jebel Ali Golf Resort and Spa, and Al Mamzar Beach Park.