SAN JUAN -- The opening of Puerto Rico's first Environmental Education Center on El Escambron beach here moved the island one step closer to having the first officially recognized Blue Flag beach in the Caribbean.

Blue Flag is an international symbol of quality for beaches that are well managed and adhere to strict criteria for safety, cleanliness and environmental awareness.

The Blue Flag campaign, developed in Europe in 1987, is administered by the Foundation for Environmental Education, based in Denmark and England. FEE administers Blue Flag programs on more than 2,500 beaches and marinas in Europe, South Africa, and now the Caribbean.

Jose Suarez, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Co., said the new education center "will enable us to meet criteria needed to obtain Blue Flag status by November 2004, which will position us in the international market as an eco-friendly destination."

The center will provide tourists and locals with infomation on beach facilities, natural resources and water conditions for swimming.

Puerto Rico, which spends $700,000 annually in daily cleaning of its beaches, has spent an additional $800,000 on the Blue Flag program. Centers also are set to open on Monserrate Beach in Luquillo and Flamenco Beach in Culebra.

For details, visit PRTC at www.gotopuertorico.com.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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