Which country has the world’s most eco-friendly beaches?

Which country has the world’s most eco-friendly beaches and what is an eco friendly beach anyway? That’s the question at the top of our minds this summer holiday while we are working out where to spend our vacation. An eco friendly beach, in our minds, is clean and plastic free with clear water and waste facilities. Although we love a natural beach, it doesn’t take much to spoil it. 

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    Which country has the world’s most eco-friendly beaches?

    According to the Blue Flag beaches list for 2022, the answer to the question ’which country has the world’s most eco-friendly beaches?’ is Spain with 621 beaches. The top ten countries with the most eco friendly beaches are:

    • Spain
    • Greece
    • Turkey
    • Italy 
    • France
    • Portugal
    • Denmark
    • Ireland
    • England
    • Cyprus

    What? Not Australia? Not the USA? There are big gaps on the Blue Flag map, so not every country uses the system. Much of Asia, Australasia, Africa, north and south America is clear of any flags and we are hard put to imagine that there are zero blue flag beaches in these locations. 

    Eco friendly beaches in Australia

    Australia has around 12,000 beaches around the continent. Each year, Tourism Australia runs a campaign to choose the top 20 best beaches. The list is based on natural surroundings, spectacular backdrops and cultural value, so the list is not indicative of eco-friendliness or clean water.

    The top 10 best beaches in Australia for 2022 are:

    1. Misery Beach, Albany WA
    2. Horseshoe Bay, South West Rocks, NSW
    3. The Spit, Gold Coast, QLD
    4. Flaherty’s Beach, Yorke Peninsula, SA
    5. Loch Ard Gorge, Port Campbell, VIC
    6. The Neck, Bruny Island, TAS
    7. Blue Pearl Bay, Whitsundays, QLD
    8. Depot Beach, South Coast, NSW
    9. Murrays Beach, Jervis Bay Territory, ACT/NSW
    10. Dundee Beach, Darwin, NT

    Unfortunately, Misery Beach in Albany Western Australia has suffered the fate of fame and is now a source of misery for locals (ABC). The beach has been reported as having become a dumping ground for litter since it was discovered and became popular. Local clean up crews are angered by having to pick up waste items like nappies, face masks and water bottles. All of these items contain plastic waste and microplastics are also an issue on the beach.

    Despite this bad news, Australia’s national science agency CSIRO reports a reduction of 29% in plastic waste on beaches in the last 6 years. This was achieved through local government managing waste and ongoing campaigns like Clean Up Australia Day and Keep Australia Beautiful. 

    Best beaches in the United States

    Coastal scientist Stephen Leatherman (aka Dr. Beach) has been judging the top beaches in the United States for decades (CNN). He has a list of criteria to judge the 650 beaches (only a small proportion of the estimated 90,000 beaches in the USA).

    Dr. Beach’s list of the top ten beaches for 2020 is:

    1. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach, Outer Banks of North Carolina
    2. Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida
    3. Coopers Beach, Southampton, New York
    4. St. George Island State Park, Florida Panhandle
    5. Duke Kahanamoku Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
    6. Lighthouse Beach, Buxton, Outer Banks of North Carolina
    7. Coronado Beach, San Diego, California
    8. Wailea Beach, Maui, Hawaii
    9. Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, South Carolina
    10. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

    Dr. Beach also runs a project called the National Healthy Beaches Campaign, encouraging healthy beaches with good water quality, sand quality, swimming conditions, safety and environmental quality. 

    If you are interested in finding out about a particular beach, US residents or visitors can find information on any local beach through the Environmental Protection Agency who provide a BEACON database. The information includes water quality and any current or past advisories. 

    What makes an eco-friendly beach? 

    In our quest to find which country has the world’s most eco-friendly beaches, we had to think about what makes an eco-friendly beach. In our opinion what makes an eco-friendly beach is a mix of benefits:

    • natural environment, 
    • clean water and beach sand, 
    • safety for our families to swim 
    • and facilities.

    They’re not the nicest things to think about, but having toilet facilities and waste facilities at the beach reduces the chance that people will just dump their litter. Of course, that’s no guarantee that anyone will use them. 

    In Spain a literal army of municipal workers clean up the beaches every morning before most holiday makers are even awake. That doesn’t prevent a beach from being littered or the tide washing litter into or out of the ocean each day. On a recent vacation, it was still possible to spot litter on the beach and in the water.

    Even an eco-friendly beach might need to be closed if external pollution affects the water quality. Beaches that are closest to cities and industrial areas have the most difficulty in keeping their water quality high. Countries that depend on tourism for their economy have to think carefully about how to balance the needs of the local population against the need to keep their beaches and water clean. Tourists can choose to go to any other destination on a whim. 

    The world’s best eco-friendly beaches

    So far, to try and find out which country has the world’s most eco-friendly beaches, we have looked at which country has the biggest numbers of beaches. In terms of quality, we think it would be very difficult to judge the world’s beaches to find the most eco-friendly beach of them all. That said, here are some suggestions for beaches with a focus on sustainability:

    The Whitsundays in Australia have worked hard to clean up their act. Whitehaven beach was voted most eco-friendly beach by CNN for good reason. The initiatives have included a solar powered resort that offsets its carbon emissions, a certified ‘clean marina’, and electric vehicle charging stations. They have also installed water quality loggers and run educational programs on the Great Barrier Reef like the healthy heart project on climate change. Eco Barge Clean Seas trawls the area and clears marine debris. Since 2009, they have cleared out over 238,000kg of debris in Whitsunday waters.

    CNN voted Playa Matapalo in Costa Rica as their second best eco-friendly beach in the world. Playa Matapalo has lots of natural benefits, it is surrounded by the Portalon National Wildlife Refuge. Costa Rica itself is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world and the Osa Peninsula on which Playa Matapalo is located, is home to half the species found in Costa Rica. Playa Matapalo is also home to turtles and sloths in the local forests. Turtle conservation projects run on the beach for leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea), green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas), olive ridley turtles (Lepidochelys kempii), and hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata).

    Maybe the best way to find out which country has the world’s most eco-friendly beaches is to stick with numbers.

    Which country has the world’s most eco-friendly beaches? 

    Based on the blue flag map, Spain is the answer to the question ‘which country has the world’s most eco-friendly beaches?’ We reckon there is an inside chance that either the US or Australia could beat Spain for the award of which country has the world’s most eco-friendly beaches, due to their size and the size of their coastlines. This award might go to any of the other countries that are not shown on the blue flag map because they have chosen not to participate in the scheme. Which country do you think has the world’s most eco-friendly beaches?