JURMALA BEACH: One of Latvia’s ‘blue flag’ beaches is crowded with swimmers and sunbathers on a hot summer day.
RIGA - Latvians enjoy their short summer ‘window’ to take a dip in the Baltic Sea at one of the 10 Blue Flag beaches hugging the coast. A total of ten Latvian beaches can show off their blue flags this year, plus another two that toss proudly in two marinas.
The Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) is the institution in charge of granting this recognition, one that encourages working towards sustainable development at beaches and marinas through strict criteria dealing with water quality, environmental education and information, environmental management, safety and other services.
Janis Ulme, from the FEE in Latvia, reports that the lucky beaches that sport this recognition this year are the Riga municipality beach Vakarbulli, as well as two Jurmala municipality beaches, Majori and Jaunkemeri. The Engure municipality beach Abragciema kempings, Ventspils municipality city beach and Liepaja municipality city beach have a Blue Flag too, like Kuldiga municipality beach Martinsala and Jekabpils municipality beach Radzi, both at inland lakes. Last but not least, the Stropu and Spropu Wave beaches, in Daugavpils municipality, also have blue flags. The marinas that received a Blue Flag are located in Liepaja and Pavilosta.
The Blue Flag is a voluntary eco-label awarded to over 3,650 beaches and marinas in 44 countries across Europe, South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada and the Caribbean. The Blue Flag Program is owned and run by the non-government, non-profit organization the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE).
The Blue Flag works towards sustainable development of beaches and marinas through strict criteria dealing with Water Quality, Environmental Education and Information, Environmental Management, and Safety and Other Services. The FEE describes itself as an international umbrella organization with one national member organization per country, representing FEE on the national level and in charge of implementing FEE programs nationally. FEE currently has 72 member organizations in 63 countries worldwide.
According to the FEE, “during the Blue Flag season the flag must fly at the beach. The flag is both a symbol of the program being run at the beach, and also an indication of compliance. The flag may either be flown 24 hours a day during the Blue Flag season, or only during the hours when the beach meets all the Blue Flag criteria. If a beach that has Blue Flag accreditation does not comply with the Blue Flag criteria, the flag may be permanently or temporarily withdrawn from the beach.”
The organization warns that “in all cases of non-compliance, the National Operator must immediately inform the local authority or beach operator about the observed areas of non-compliance and information about the reason for a withdrawal of the flag must be posted clearly at the beach.”
Latvian beaches are obligated to promote a series of activities during the Blue Flag season in order to increase the awareness of, and care for, the local environment by recreational users and residents. For example, it must train personnel and tourist service providers in environmental matters and best practice methods and encourage the participation of local stakeholders in environmental management within the area; promote sustainable recreation and tourism in the area as well as promoting the sharing of ideas and efforts between the Blue Flag program and other FEE programs.
The key to be accepted in the Blue Flag program is that beaches achieve “excellent bathing water quality,” that is why “the bathing water quality standards have been based on the most appropriate international and national standards and legislation.” Since the Blue Flag is an international eco-label, it has one minimum global standard for water quality.
There are some basic standards for bathing water quality for beaches, but each country can apply stricter national standards. In this case, the beach must submit to the more demanding national standards for bathing water quality.
To keep the recognition, the corresponding beach must have at least one sampling site and this must be located where the concentration of bathers is highest. Additionally, “where there are potential sources of pollution, for example near streams, rivers or other inlets, additional samples must be taken at these sites to provide evidence that such inflows do not affect bathing water quality. Samples for microbiological and physical–chemical parameters must be taken,” says the FEE.
Latvia’s Baltic Sea coast has almost 500 kilometers of sandy beaches. To swim, there is not only the sea, since the country is crossed by almost 12,500 streams and rivers, according to the Latvian Tourism Agency, the largest of which are the Daugava, the long Gauja River, the Venta, and the wide Lielupe River.
There are about 130 waterfalls to be found on Latvia’s rivers, as well as Europe’s widest waterfall, the Venta Falls, which is located in Kuldiga, a European destination of Excellence in Tourism. Three Latvian rivers are included in the list of European Main Transboundary Surface Waters: Daugava, Lielupe and Venta. The list doesn’t end here, because Latvia has over a thousand different types of above-ground springs as well.
Latvia works to protect the water quality in cooperation with other countries like Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the USA. The Law on Water Management came into force in Latvia on Oct. 26, 2002, and was the main regulation in water management and protection. According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the aim of the Law is to establish a surface water and groundwater protection and management system that promotes the sustainable and rational use of water resources, improves protection of water environment, ensures water protection and facilitates achievement of goals set in international agreements.
This Law defines that hereafter, water protection measures, their efficiency and usefulness, must be controlled within river basins instead of administrative borders. The territory of Latvia is divided into the Daugava, Gauja, Lielupe and Venta river basin districts. The Law transposes requirements of the Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council. Several laws and regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers are resultant from the Law of Water Management, where water protection is also regulated by the Law on Pollution and resultant laws and regulations.
Despite the fact that Latvia works to preserve the quality of its water and beaches, the number of tourists who stay at least four nights in a collective or private accommodation in the country, according to Eurostat, has descended in the last few years, with 381,000 in 2005; 360,000 in 2006; 365,000 in 2007; 391,000 in 2008 and 345,000 in 2009.
The figures about passengers transported by air have, on the other hand, grown tremendously during the last decades; this phenomenon has affected Latvia too. In the mid-seventies there were only slightly more than 200 million passengers transported by air in the European Union. Estimates for 2000 give a number of about 600 million. Latvia has contributed to this number increasingly, going from a little over one million passengers in 2005, to 1.8 million in 2006; 2.4 million in 2007; 3.1 million in 2008; 3.6 million in 2009, to last year’s bulky figure of 4.6 million passengers.