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Cooperation between the authorities and civil society organizations has never been more important

To honor the efforts of the local authorities, the "Ecoation" association operates the "Blue Flag" program on some of Israel's declared bathing beaches - an international program for the environmental management of bathing beaches and marinas on behalf of the FEE (Foundation for Environmental Education) organization.

Yaniv Bleicher Director of the Department of Environmental Management, Ecotion Photography
Yaniv Bleicher Director of the Department of Environmental Management, Ecotion Photography

The summer of 2023 is almost behind us, the climate crisis is already here and new heat records are being broken this year as well. It seems that there is no more appropriate place than the beach to cool off a bit from the heat, and for us Israelis the beach is especially available. In order to continue to enjoy this precious resource, all that is left for us is to bring a bathing suit, a towel and sunscreen, but in order for our visit to the sea to be perfect, great efforts are made behind the scenes on the part of the local authorities and collaborations are forged with associations and voluntary bodies, such as the "Equasion" association. which works to promote the preservation of Israel's marine and coastal environment.

In Israel there are 157 declared bathing beaches, the management of which is an extremely complex challenge, and unfortunately the resources and budgets allocated by the state for their management are not sufficient. In fact, only 25 coastal local authorities (including the Association of Kinneret Cities which unites several local authorities) carry the burden alone and provide bathing services to the residents of all 256 cities and councils in Israel. Among the challenges that the local authorities face: maintenance, maintaining cleanliness and waste management, bather safety, accessibility and more.

In order to honor the efforts of the local authorities, the "Ecoation" association operates the "Blue Flag" program in some of Israel's declared bathing beaches - an international program for the environmental management of bathing beaches and marinas on behalf of the FEE (Foundation for Environmental Education) organization. The program provides a working framework and practical tools for management maintainer of the beaches and marinas. It has been operating worldwide since 1987 and has been joined by over 5,000 sites in 51 countries to date. The program helps to brand the beach as prestigious and helps it attract tourists in an era where ecological awareness among tourists from around the world is increasing.

In Israel, the Blue Flag was awarded in 2023 to 59 sites, from Hariya to Eilat. To receive the Blue Flag, a beach must meet strict criteria, among other things in the areas of waste management, cleaning, maintenance, environmental education and presentation of environmental information, safety and accessibility. The beach's candidacy is examined before a national committee, which forwards its recommendations to an international committee in Copenhagen, Denmark, which discusses all the recommendations from all countries.

The members of the national committee are representatives of government ministries, the local government, environmental organizations and more. Around the committee's table, a fruitful dialogue between the various bodies is created, challenges and problems in the management of the beaches are flooded, and more often than not, solutions are also found. In some cases, the granting of the blue flag to the beach is conditional upon the presentation of work plans or the performance of such and other improvements, which helps to raise the standard of the beach even before the start of the bathing season.

Since 2012, when the Blue Flag program was adopted in Israel for the first time, new beaches join the program almost every year. To understand that the Blue Flag provides a working framework and practical tools through simple actions, a crucial part of the local authorities' decision to join the program. For example, the plan stipulates that a beach management committee must be established, in which all stakeholders relevant to its management will be members. The committee must meet to discuss the steps taken on the coast to protect the environment, the difficulties and challenges, to strive for solutions and to create collaborations within the local authority and with parties outside the authority. Unfortunately, such a work procedure does not exist in many beaches that are not in the Blue Flag program, even though it sounds so basic. In addition, in many local authorities, despite their excellence in managing their beaches, it was assimilated only after they joined the program.

Access to information

The field of information accessibility to the public is also such that the Blue Flag provides an easy and simple answer. One of the program's criteria states that the following information regarding the beach must be accessible to the public at the beach: a map of the beach and its facilities, the results of the water sampling carried out at the beach, the possibilities of reaching the beach by public transportation, information about ecosystems and heritage sites in the area, educational activities at the beach, codes of conduct , ways of communicating with the body responsible for beach management and with the Ecotion association and information about the Blue Flag program. The format in which the information is displayed on all the blue flag beaches in Israel is uniform, on a board placed at the entrance to the beach with the blue flag flying next to it, to enable the sharing of information with the public in a convenient way on the beaches where the program operates.

Accessibility for people with disabilities

One of the most significant challenges facing beach managers is the issue of accessibility. By law, every local authority must make part of its bathing beaches accessible to people with disabilities, and the Blue Flag program also sets clear rules on the matter. Despite this, the Blue Flag reviews often find substantial deficiencies in the field of accessibility, starting with maintenance problems, such as faucets not accessible to people with physical disabilities in the beach showers, to the lack of shaded sheds or paths accessible to the wet sand. From the Blue Flag audits, it can be determined that the area of ​​beach accessibility is the area where the gap between what is available and what is desired is the largest of all the areas examined in the program, but it can also be determined that thanks to the Blue Flag, accessibility improvements are being made on the beaches, from minor improvements such as signage in the accessible sheds to the addition of accessible surfaces and of freak access roads. This is an example of how, thanks to the support and guidance provided by the program and thanks to the cooperation between the local authorities and a voluntary body, results and a concept of continuous improvement are recorded.

Responsibility of bathers

And after all this, we must talk about the third side of the triangle: the beach bathers. The local authorities invest their full efforts in the management of the beach, associations such as 'Equasion' help in providing frameworks and work tools, but the challenge is shared by all of us and the bathers also have the duty to protect the beaches. Disposable plastics, cigarette butts and trash on the beach are first of all harmful to the animals and the environment, but we are also affected by the pollution they produce. We all have an important role in protecting the sea and the environment, for our sake and for future generations.

The author of the article is Yaniv Bleicher, director of the environmental management department at the association "Acquasion", Working to promote the preservation of the marine and coastal environment in Israel for over 20 years.

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