11007530655?profile=RESIZE_710xDelray Beach has a healthy dune and easy public access. Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

 

By John Pacenti

It’s the Michelin star for beaches.
Delray Beach is on the verge of joining the elite as it is one of only two continental U.S. seashores to be considered for the Blue Flag designation, an international honor that means not only prestige but also more eco-tourist dollars.
“It is a big win,” said Missie Barletto, director of public works for Delray Beach. 
“The questions that the international committee is coming back with are getting more and more simple, and less complicated. So, I think that means that they must be close to being on board.”
The 36-year program that designates beaches — as well as marinas and tourism boats — worldwide is run by the Foundation for Environmental Education. The United States is just now being considered — though seven beaches in Puerto Rico and four others in the U.S. Virgin Islands hoist the Blue Flag.
The application process is formidable and only Delray Beach and Zuma Beach in Malibu, California, have made the cut for this year.
The committee looks at more than 30 criteria that cover water quality, environmental education and information, environmental management, services provided and promoting sustainable tourism.
The city’s environmental education will include information boards at the beach pavilions. There are talks about installing televisions in the rafters that would explain why the beach is one-of-a-kind.
The city was able to point to sea turtle nest excavations (after hatchlings have left) and a dune walk as part of its educational offering. It is working on putting together games for children, such as scavenger hunts. The city’s Sandoway Discovery Center across State Road A1A from the beach also was a selling point. The city is getting its recycling bins in place on the beach and there will be buckets that people can grab for trash pickup on the sand. They can dump the garbage and leave the bucket for the next person.
“So, just a lot of things like that where the community can also participate and understand why it’s a really special place,” Barletto said.
Bill Petry, as a vice president of the Beach Property Owners Association, was on a 12-person committee working to bring the banner to Delray Beach. 
“What it does is give the town and beach a designation that is very important to Europeans and there is some cachet with the South American traveler,” he said.
“They are trying to make it a designation that will attract a high level of tourist who really enjoys the beach and spends a lot of money — especially during the offseason.”
Annie Mercer is the program coordinator for the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association that managed the application process for U.S. beaches before forwarding the finalists to the international committee.
Mercer said five U.S. beaches initially applied. The other three were East Beach on Galveston Island, Texas; Lovers Key State Park in Lee County; and Waikiki Beach in Honolulu.
More than 5,000 ocean and river beaches and marinas and boating tourism operators in 50 countries hoist the eco-friendly Blue Flag label.
Delray Beach, like a horse coming from the rear in a Triple Crown race, became a candidate in February of last year and raced to the front. 
So, what seems to be putting Delray Beach over the top with the judges? The dunes, for one.
“They absolutely love their dunes. They have an amazing, amazing dune system, which I’m excited to highlight for the program,” Mercer said.
Barletto said the dunes have been a community project for decades before the city took over their maintenance recently.
“If you would contact the historical society for a picture of what the dunes looked like even in the ’50s or ’60s, you would see that there’s a very, very thin amount of beach,” she said.
“Over the years through dune plantings, sand accumulation and beach renourishment, we’ve managed to build a beach now where it is maybe 150 yards wide.”
The city should know the final decision by the end of April. Barletto said there is a tentative May 19 date to celebrate.
“We’ll have all of our informational boards up and have all of the environmental education pieces in place, and all the recycling bins will be up there and the flag will be flying,” she said.

 

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