BALLYGALLY has been dropped from a list of Northern Ireland beaches recommended for swimming.
In its latest Good Beach Guide, the Marine Conservation Society has awarded top marks to more bathing beaches in the province than ever before. A total of 16 out of 24 - representing 67 per cent - of NI beaches tested last summer have been deemed to have excellent water quality.
Last year, Ballygally was one of the province’s 10 recommended beaches. But the Coast Road beauty spot has this year been downgraded to the legal minimum mandatory standard - the equivalent of a basic pass.
Brown’s Bay beach was also awarded mandatory standard, while Carnlough beach met the stricter guideline standard.
Despite the recent decline in water quality at Ballygally, MCS revealed that overall water quality in Northern Ireland is at its highest standard since the Good Beach Guide began 25 years ago, with all tested beaches successfully meeting the minimum standard.
Every summer, water quality is assessed at popular UK beaches which have been designated as bathing waters under the European Bathing Water Directive. During the bathing season, samples are usually taken once a week by the relevant local authorities and tested for bacteria, which indicate the presence of pollution from sewage and animal waste.
Last year’s guide highlighted the poor state of bathing waters in Northern Ireland, compared with the rest of the UK. This prompted the Environment Minister, Alex Attwood to convene the province’s first ever Good Beach Summit. Since then, MCS has been working with other organisations in NI to improve coastal water quality and reduce the amount of sewage related debris that blights much of its coastline.
Dr Robert Keirle, MCS pollution programme manager said the latest figures would be an important boost to Northern Ireland’s tourism, but added that it was not a reason for complacency.
“This is a milestone for coastal resorts to be proud of, and shows the impact of the guide over the last 25 years. However, this summer will see the first samples taken under the revised Bathing Water Directive, which will replace the current standards with far more stringent ones from 2015.
“It’s really important that local authorities, Northern Ireland Water and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency don’t become complacent and take their collective feet off the pedal of continued environmental improvements. If that happens we could see a drop in the number of beaches recommended by us in the future, which could pose a risk to the great reputation that our beaches have,” Mr Keirie added.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood welcomed the results of the latest Good Beach Guide and said: “It is great to see our improving water standard being publicised throughout the islands. It is a good advert for the quality of our natural heritage. The guide now recommends 16 of our beaches, up from 10 last year. This is a good endorsement of our water quality management plans and will be a great support to the coastal economy.
“All water quality is vulnerable to heavy rainfall events. To both preserve and improve on this excellent progress, all agencies must remain vigilant. There are major roles for the public in helping to keep our beaches clean. MCS specifically mention sewage related debris blighting some of our coastal areas, although not our bathing beaches.
DOE has introduced Clean Neighbourhoods legislation to give district councils more powers to tackle littering, dog fouling, fly tipping and other antisocial behaviour which spoils our urban, rural and coastal areas,” Mr Attwood concluded.
Overall, 516 of 754 (68 per cent) of UK bathing beaches tested last summer have been recommended by MCS as having excellent water quality – eight per cent more than last year.