SEVEN BOROUGHS in the Algarve have registered to join a voluntary programme to monitor sand quality in a project being co-ordinated by the European Blue Flag Association and developed by the Instituto do Ambiente (the institute for the environment) and Instituto Ricardo Jorge (a specialist environmental agency).
Councils in Vila do Bispo, Lagos, Albufeira, Loulé, Faro, Tavira and Vila Real de Santo António have started sending results from sand samples, collected at the beginning of the bathing season, to the European Blue Flag Association’s headquarters.
The national co-ordinator of the Blue Flag campaign, Catarina Gonçalves, said that the details of the analysis are known, plus some preliminary data gained from second samples, but the final results will not be revealed until the end of the official bathing season in October.
The seven Algarve councils join 26 other councils from around Portugal in the programme. The longterm plan for the association is to add sand quality to the list of criteria that must be met in order for beaches to be awarded the Blue Flag, a recognised symbol of environmental quality and safety for bathers, which already includes such criteria as water quality and cleanliness.
A pilot project to measure the microbiology of beach sand was carried out in 2001, when the association revealed that poor quality sand was particularly registered on the more crowded beaches and at those which do not hold the Blue Flag.
The same report concluded that dry sand was normally more contaminated than wet sand and concluded that it was man’s actions that had caused the contamination.
Algarve councils at war with Blue Flag Association
Meanwhile, the councils of Castro Marim, Vila do Bispo and Vila Real de Santo António have protested against the criteria used by the association and the decisions it has made.
The first câmara to complain was Castro Marim, which decided not to put the borough’s three beaches (Retur, Praia Verde and Altura) forward as candidates for Blue Flag status this year.
In the middle of the bathing season last year, Altura beach had its Blue Flag withdrawn, while Manta Rota beach, which is extremely close to Altura, did not suffer any sanctions in line with the quality criteria.
This led the câmara president, José Estevens, to talk about “a lack of credibility and principles” on the part of the association, and he demanded an apology.
Salema beach, in Vila do Bispo, was the first beach to have its Blue Flag withdrawn this season, after a poor result was registered when its water was analysed by the Instituto do Ambiente.
As a form of protest, and to demonstrate his disagreement with the criteria, the president of Vila do Bispo Câmara, Gilberto Viegas, took the decision not to fly the Blue Flags that had been awarded to the borough’s other six beaches, replacing them with the official council flag instead.
Also in conflict with the European Blue Flag Association is Vila Real de Santo António Câmara, which is complaining about the fact that Lota beach was not considered for Blue Flag status this year.
It believes the decision was based on water analysis results from last year and warns that the Association is running the risk of being discredited.
Other beaches that had their Blue Flags withdrawn this summer include: Ferragudo, Pintadinho, Oura-Leste and Vale do Lobo beaches, decisions which, according to the European Blue Flag Association, were based on the beaches’ poor water quality.