Tel Aviv beach.
Tuesday November 26 was a beach day in Tel Aviv. Photo by Motti Milrod
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After its beaches have already entered the ranks of the world's best rated beaches, Tel Aviv now wants to go one step further and follow Spain, Greece and Turkey by placing a blue flag on its beaches. "The Blue Flag" awarded by the Foundation for Environmental Education, an environmental non-profit organization advocating sustainable development operating in dozens of countries, has in recent years become the standard for beach quality.

Last week, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality intensified its efforts to achieve the rating and brought in from Denmark Finn Bolding Thomsen, the organization's executive director, who surveyed the city's beaches. From there Thomsen traveled to neighboring Jordan, where he granted the coveted Blue Flag to three Aqaba beaches.

Thomsen toured the local beaches with municipal representatives as a guest of the municipality's subsidiary, the Global City administration. The goal of the municipal company is to create in the near future a partnership with an Israeli environmental organization, in order to join the international association and submit several local beaches as candidates to receive the Blue Flag eco-label.

The Blue Flag is one several of the international organization's projects to encourage environmental awareness together with green organizations, government ministries and local authorities. Ther project started some 25 years ago and today over 3,500 beaches boast a Blue Flag, most of them along the Mediterranean Sea.

"This idea started with an environmental organization in France," explained Thomsen during his visit. "An environmental organization in each country must be involved in two of our environmental education projects, and the Blue Flag can be one. It must oversee the process of selecting the beaches, and an international team of ours inspects whether the beach does indeed meet the requirements. Afterward, we monitor the beach's management in order to ensure that there is justification for the beach to continue having the designation."

The Blue Flag is granted based on a series of measures, including the beach's cleanliness, quality of the seawater, safety precautions such as lifeboats and lifeguards, and sanitation facilities. In addition, the organization very much takes into account educational and information activities, recycling of waste collected from the beach and public access.

"The starting point of the beaches I saw is very favorable for receiving Blue Flag status," said Thomsen, who visited three Tel Aviv beaches: Hatzuk, Metzitzim and Midron Jaffa. "Most of the facilities and infrastructure needed for cleanliness and safety already exist and my impression was that the water quality is also good. What are missing are waste recycling, and guidance and information on the importance of protecting the beach."

"In order to be a city with a global status, Tel Aviv must show it has an environmental approach that also includes its beaches," notes Hila Oren, who heads the Global City administration. The municipal subsidiary is working to establish a partnership with a local environmental organization so that it can join the international organization.

"The Blue Flag is a kind of standard for beach quality. If the city had beaches with the Blue Flag label, it would be another reason why people from all over the world would want to come here," adds Oren.

It should be noted that Tel Aviv has in recent years invested considerable efforts in improving sewerage and drainage infrastructure in order to prevent beach closures due to contamination. Over the past two years, the Hatzuk and Metzitzim beaches were closed several times due to localized contaminations, and just last week, the Gordon beach was closed for a few days because of sewage contamination.

Yet despite all its efforts, the city will have a hard time dealing with one problem: the large amount of waste flowing in from the sea and contaminating the water. Some of the problems Tel Aviv will face in the future are beyond its control. In addition, there is seasonal swarm of jellyfish in the sea.

"The jellyfish are a familiar and common problem," notes Thomsen. "When this disturbs bathers, we ask the local authorities to temporarily remove the sign indicating that the beach is a Blue Flag beach, even though we know that this is a problem that the local authority cannot resolve."