Blue Flag designation means it's one of the cleanest beaches in the world

Sauble Beach happy to be blue  

by Maria Canton, Sun Times Correspondent

Sauble Beach just saw its first weekend as an internationally-recognized Blue Flag beach.

The flag, presented by Environmental Defence for a two-kilometre stretch from the Crowd Inn restaurant north to the sixth street washrooms, was hoisted above Sauble's sands during a ceremony Friday, indicating the beach is among the cleanest, safest and most environmentally sound in the world.

"We're happy to have been able to put the beach into this position," Mayor Carl Nobel told a crowd of about 60 gathered on the beach. "We can now tell people this is one of the top beaches in the world and that it has met all of the Blue Flag criteria."

Sauble Beach is the first beach on Lake Huron to receive a Blue Flag, while several Toronto-area beaches have already earned the eco-label.

The flag is an internationally recognized symbol given to beaches that pass a battery of tests in the categories of water quality, environmental education and management safety standards and services.

The designation comes at a time when the Saugeen First Nation is in mediation talks with the provincial and federal governments to determine exactly who owns North Sauble Beach. The municipality is represented by the province.

The new chief of the Saugeen First Nation, Randall Kahgee Jr., was only brought up to speed on the Blue Flag award last week after the original ceremony was postponed. Kahgee did not attend Friday's event, but Noble said they have agreed to work together to maintain the beach's new status.

According to Rick Smith, Environmental Defence executive director, the co-operation and commitment by all sides has been commendable.

"It's official today, Sauble Beach measures up to the best beaches in the world," said Smith.

"There has been unprecedented commitment to this beach and an unbelievable amount of work has been done to improve the beach."

Members of Friends of Sauble Beach were instrumental in ensuring the environmental side of things was looked after. The volunteer group has made protecting the sand dunes into 12 boardwalks or walkways providing environmentally friendly access points to the beach.

They also install 2,000 metres of sand fence every winter to help prevent erosion.

"Everything is done in accordance with our beach management plan, which is a scientific plan we had drawn up by the Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation," said Mary Ransom, chair of the Friends group.

And while the flag is a great source of pride for those who worked to obtain it, people sunning themselves and strolling the streets seemed oblivious to Sauble's newfound fame.

"I had no idea. I've been coming here since I was a baby and I'll always come here, so I don't know if it makes a difference," said Sherry Speakman.

"I've always said this was a beautiful beach, I guess it gives us bragging rights."

Environment Defence monitored the beach for the last two swimming seasons. The results of that process were submitted to two juries — the Blue Flag Great Lakes regional jury and the International Blue Flag jury — before the flag was granted to Sauble Beach.

The Blue Flag is awarded for a one year period, after which time a new application must be submitted to an international jury for renewal.

Upwards of 2,500 beaches in Europe, South Africa and the Caribbean have received a Blue Flag, including Laguna Beach in the Dominican Republic and Port Antonio Marina Beach in Jamaica.