It's no secret that the world's beaches are in trouble. But not all beaches are created equal, and some countries are doing a much better job than others when it comes to preserving their coastlines.
In this guide, we'll take a look at which countries have the most eco-friendly beaches, and why they're worth visiting.
Costa Rica is home to some of the world's most eco-friendly beach destinations, all of which are unspoiled by high-rise buildings and overcrowding.
This Central American country is on the cutting edge of eco-tourism, with resorts that emphasize natural beaches and landscapes rather than overdevelopment. The government of Costa Rica has pledged to turn it into the world's first carbon-neutral country.
Playa Blanca, in the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge, is a popular nesting spot for three species of sea turtles. Some hotels on this beach offer turtle-watching tours.
Tortuguero is a marine ecological reserve known for its wildlife viewing opportunities and water sports, including kayaking and canoeing through pristine waterways winding through thick tropical vegetation. The park includes a pristine beach on the Caribbean Sea, Playa Tortuguero.
In addition to sea turtles, which lay their eggs here between May and October, the park is home to sloths, monkeys, coyotes, ocelots, and bird species including hummingbirds.
Mountainous Manuel Antonio National Park has white sand beaches and a long beachfront filled with wildlife. The area is home to about 350 species of birds alone. While you are watching the monkeys and sloths, you might also want to look for a four-eyed frog or a caiman.
Playa Manzanillo is a five-minute walk from the Hotel Playa Chiquita Lodge. The beach provides opportunities for swimming and snorkeling among coral reefs filled with tropical fish and sea life such as sea turtles, rays, starfish, and octopi.
Australia is making an increasing effort to become a more eco-friendly country. It has many pristine beaches, many of which are environmentally friendly and harbor some of the world's best coral reefs, and an abundance of marine life.
One of the most awarded is Bondi Beach in Sydney, which won the 'Best Australian Icon' award twice by the National Trust of Australia. More recently, it was named "the Best Beach in Australasia" at the World Travel Awards 2015.
This beach has a Blue Flag certification, which means that there is excellent water quality, no pollution, and lifeguards on duty throughout summer. It is also a great example of responsible tourism because there are recycling bins, heat lamps to keep swimmers warm during winter, and special areas for dogs.
Whitehaven Beach, on Whitsunday Island in Queensland, is also named 'the world's cleanest beach' by The World Travel Awards, and it was the first in Australia to be awarded this title.
It is known for its white sand which does not retain heat or get hot like black sand. The Whitsunday Islands have low tourism activity during winter because of cooler weather, which helps keep water quality excellent all year long.
Surfers Paradise Beach in Queensland was also included on the list of the world's cleanest beaches by The World Travel Awards. It is known for its golden sands which are free of black ashes, providing an ideal opportunity to swim and surf safely all year round.
The best eco-beaches in Australia also include Shelly Beach in Nelson Bay and The Basin in Queensland.
Greece's beautiful beaches are not only inviting, but they are also clean and sustainable. Blue flag certification is given to beaches that are free from sewage discharge, overfishing, and excessive tourism.
The Greek island of Zakynthos (aka Zante) is home to Gerakas beach. The beach has beautiful turquoise water and features that are unaltered by tourism. It is part of the Zakynthos National Marine Park, making it a protected nesting site for the endangered Caretta-Caretta (loggerhead) sea turtle.
Early risers may get the opportunity to watch the eggs hatch, and see the tiny newborn turtles make their first journey to the sea.
The United States has many eco-friendly beaches (as well as some that aren't). Here are some good eco-friendly beach locations that (depending on which state you live in) might be a little closer to home.
The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is a marine preserve on the east coast of Oahu, near Honolulu. It’s one of the most famous and popular beaches in Hawaii, and features a marine education center at its entrance.
The bay was created by volcanic activity forming a natural breakwater, protecting a coral reef system from waves and storms. The fish forage for food around the reefs where there is plenty to eat with fewer predators to hunt them down.
This is one of the few beaches in the United States that prohibits disposable plastics like grocery bags, straws, and Styrofoam cups. It also has a ban on smoking and requires visitors to clean up their trash.
Just a short drive south of the town, Short Sands Beach is a rugged, secluded, natural beach within the Oswald West State Park.
Despite the fact that Newport Beach is home to many boats, the city and private enterprises have worked hard to make it ecologically responsible. Many of Newport Beach's boats are environmentally friendly and not diesel-powered.
The city has also banned smoking within 100 feet of its beaches and parks.
The famous environmentally-friendly beach in Brazil is Praia Verde. This beach is very helpful to the environment because it has a lot of sand dunes and it's filled with vegetation, which helps to protect the coast. The vegetation also helps regulate the microclimate and prevent coastal erosion.
Sancho Bay, on the Atlantic Ocean island of Fernando de Noronha, is a protected marine ecological reserve that is known to be one of the most eco-friendly beaches in the world.
The government was strict when buying this island, so much of it remains undeveloped. The Sancho Bay sand is white and fine, and the beach is very beautiful.
Thailand has some amazing sustainable beaches, with one of the best being Ko Kut.
This small island is largely unspoiled and is almost completely covered in a thick lush forest. This makes for a beautiful setting and it is one of the more popular eco-friendly beaches in Thailand. There are several resorts available that use renewable sources for power and there are a few water sports available.
Koh Tao is another beautiful beach in Thailand which is a very popular spot with divers and snorkelers. It has a relatively small coral reef but it is very healthy, filled with a range of different fish.
You can also find dolphins which you can swim alongside or watch in the distance.
Ecuador is currently enjoying a boom in eco-tourism, not least because of its most famous archipelago.
The Galapagos Islands are located off the coast of mainland Ecuador and are one of the most famous tourist attractions in the area.
They are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and can boast some of the world's best natural beaches. These include Tortuga Bay, Gardner Bay Beach, and El Garrapatero.
The land is home to many different species of animals and marine life, some of them being unique even from a scientific standpoint. Visitors are able to take guided tours of the area and discover new species, make scientific observations about them, and even partake in various research studies.
You may ask, what makes a beach eco-friendly, and what criteria were used to come up with this list? It's a fair question!
To be deemed eco-friendly, a beach, town, or region would need to fulfill as many of these criteria as possible.
Sustainable tourism is about taking care of the places we visit and reducing our carbon footprint when we travel. We need support beaches that are making an effort to be responsible, and avoid those that aren't.
There are also things we can each do as an individual to make sure our visit to the beach doesn't damage the animals, marine life, or environment we find there.
Some countries have beaches that don't do much towards environmental protection, but there are a number of others who rank among the top green tourism options in the world.
In this article, we’ve talked about some of these places and what makes them so attractive for tourists looking for a green vacation.
Whether you want beautiful scenery, pristine reefs, or more opportunities to enjoy nature, one of these destinations is sure to fit your needs perfectly. We hope our list has helped spark some ideas and inspire you on your next vacation!