Last month, much of Toronto flew colourful rainbow flags to celebrate Pride. Year-round, our city’s lakefronts display another kind of pride: Blue Flags denoting our safe and clean bathing beaches.
What is it?
The Blue Flag is a voluntary eco-label awarded to beaches and marinas. The program promotes sustainable development and adherence to strict criteria covering four key areas. It is run by the non-profit organization Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) in Denmark (blueflag.org).
The program started in France, when in 1985 coastal municipalities were awarded a Blue Flag for compliance with sewage treatment and bathing water quality criteria. In 1987, the European Commission accepted the official program launch.
There are 31 mandatory criteria that fall under four general areas: environmental education and information, water quality, environmental management (by far the most requirements), and safety and services.
How it works
Blue Flags are awarded one season at a time and can be withdrawn if criteria are not met. Municipalities must first submit a feasibility study application that covers all criteria. Once designated, the FEE may inspect a Blue Flag beach unannounced, while local authorities take care of regular maintenance, quality checks, compliance, signage etc.
Toronto Public Health tests lake water quality every day between June and August and posts their results online within 24 hours.
Toronto Parks staff are responsible for beaches and washrooms.
“We clean the washrooms twice every day, or three to four times on busy days. Beaches get cleaned daily. We have a mechanical groomer that picks up garbage, and staff also hand-pick,” says Stuart Slessor, Parks Supervisor for Eastern Beaches and Waterfront.
Garbage bins are checked three times a day and emptied at least daily, twice or more on weekends.
Toronto Police’s marine unit manages lifeguards and water safety.
As for wildlife, many of our annual flocks of Canada geese have been relocated to farms outside the GTA or other less populated areas to minimize conflicts between humans and geese.
Beach signage is handled by the city’s byaw enforcement division. Be aware that some signage about dogs on the beach contradicts the actual bylaw. Signs placed on the sand state merely to “Please have your dog on a leash.” However, Toronto Municipal Code #608 details that NO dogs are permitted on swimming beaches during bathing season. At all. Leashed or otherwise. An inquiry to the city about the conflicting signage was unanswered at press time.
Contradictory signage and ongoing pet discussions aside, our East End is pretty special in terms of its beach quality. Of Canada’s 24 accredited beaches and four marinas, Toronto boasts eight Blue Flag beaches between the Islands and Bluffer’s Park. Worldwide, 3,203 beaches and 646 marinas in 48 countries have Blue Fag status.
In theory, Canada could have far more accredited beaches as the country with the longest coastline (more than 200,000 km by most measures).
That said, our rugged, remote, and arctic coastlines do not necessarily offer a large number of bathing beaches, whereas the smaller, warmer, and more favourable sea-front geographies of France and Greece have over 300 Blue Flag beaches each!
Our marvellous beaches are only as nice as we treat them. As someone famously said, common sense is not that common. So here are a few friendly reminders on how to do our part:
• Dogs: As mentioned above, NO dogs are allowed on the beach from April until October; not even after daylight and typical bathing hours, and regardless of whether they are on a leash (the dogs, not the human bathers).
• Garbage: Similar to the eco-tourism mantra to “Take only photographs, leave only footprints,” there is no need for garbage to be on the beach, ever. Any food wrappers and beverage containers brought onto the sand should leave with you.
• Fishing: Discarded fishing lines continue to wreak havoc on marine life. A friend and local sailor recently witnessed a rescue of a Canada goose with fishing line firmly entangled around its beak and severely cutting its tongue. Its rescuers used pliers to free the animal. Hopefully the bird will recover and survive.
• Boats: Runoff and spills from fuelling boats should of course be avoided at all cost.
• At home: Water from streets and driveways ends up in the lake, as do the soap suds you rinse off your car after a street-side or driveway wash. Use biodegradable cleaners or better yet, go to a car wash station where runoff is treated appropriately.
On your next walk along the lake, spot our blue flags and accompanying signage and think about how lucky we are to have easy access to four Blue Flag areas in the East End at Cherry Beach, Woodbine Park Beach, Kew-Balmy Beach, and Bluffer’s Park.
Martina Rowley is an environmental communicator ~ firstname.lastname@example.org ~ 647-208-1810