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For the 6th year running, Playa Guiones has received its Blue Flag award, certifying the beach and surrounded area ecologically sound with clean safe waters. Which means for us surfers and water users alike, we have healthy waters that don’t pose a risk to our health plus an ecologically sound surrounding area. But is this true always under rainstorms floods and storms? The reality there is potential for significant daily changes in water quality following rainstorms thus to the health risk to us ocean users. The blue flag award does not always mean that everyday ocean waters are clean and safe to use.

The Blue Flag Ecological Program was created in response to the imminent dangers of beach pollution, its repercussions on public health and the tourism industry. It has reached its twelfth year of operations, with a marked increase that began in 2002. Banda Azul is coordinated by multi institutional organizations with the Costa Rica Tourism Institute, National Water and Sewer Service, Public Health Ministry and the Environment Ministry (MINAE). The blue flag award is modeled on the Blue Flag program developed in Europe to identify the world’s best beaches based upon ecological quality and visitor conveniences, Costa Rica has created its own Blue Flag program with strict objective rating standards involving water and beach qualities of cleanliness Only those beaches obtaining a water and beach quality score of 90 or more (out of 100) are certified as Blue Flag. It requires every community seeking such status to apply anew each year. In other words, it involves the communities, from their businesses to their schools to their local governments. There is an economic incentive to attain Blue Flag status, community pride at stake, and an increasing awareness of how sensitive the oceans are.

However, whether it’s the effects of the passing El Nino or of climate change, we have experienced an unusually high amount of rainfall and storm activity throughout Central America over the past few months. After these rainfall events, whether it’s a coastal storm or rainfall comes from the mountains, all the following runoff and flooding reaches the coastline. Within 72 hours of a rainfall event and or flood, when rivers swell, this is when the pollution risk is greatest. Sewage systems are the most common source or pollution, especially during easily overfilled or put under excessive strain and not always designed to deal with large storm events (no overflow system). It is at this time we need to be aware of that the health risks are much greater. The blue flag system does not account for these fluctuations as water testing is only conducted a few times a month and does create an accurate picture of daily water quality. During the dry season, lower sunlight and minimized run off mean that water quality is likely very high. However during the following rainy season lower sunlight hours and consistent flooding and runoff pose a much higher risk to hum health in ocean waters. It is likely that you will in someway become ill after these rainfall, whether its a slight stomach problems (gastro borne bacteria) or potentially worse is hard to determine. It is also hard to manage and control. All we can make sure off is that there we are being provided with modern sewage systems capable of dealing with overloading and also that we are aware that we there is a daily risk.

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