Water quality varies at borough’s three bathing beaches

Ballygally. INLT 03-303-PR
Ballygally. INLT 03-303-PR
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BROWN’S Bay beach has been added to a list of Northern Ireland beaches recommended for swimming.

Last year, Brown’s Bay beach was given the legal minimum mandatory standard – the equivalent of a basic pass.

But the scenic beauty spot is now one of over a dozen beaches in the Province deemed to have excellent water quality, as part of the Marine Conservation Society’s Good Beach Guide.

Meanwhile, Carnlough beach was downgraded from guideline standard to mandatory, and the borough’s other main beach at Ballygally maintained its mandatory standard, having been dropped from the list of recommended beaches last year.

Despite one of the UK’s wettest summers on record, this year’s Good Beach Guide recommended 15 out of 23 Northern Ireland bathing beaches tested last summer as having excellent water quality.

The number is just one fewer than in last year’s figure, which was the highest ever in the province.

Nationally, MCS has recommended only 403 of the 754 UK bathing beaches tested in 2012 as having excellent water quality. That is just over half, and 113 fewer beaches than were recommended last year.

But Northern Ireland appears to be bucking the trend.

MCS pollution programme manager, Dr Robert Keirle says Northern Ireland Water has invested heavily over the last 10 years to improve its network of sewers and pumping stations and this investment now appears to be paying off.

“Despite Northern Ireland as a whole experiencing an exceptionally wet summer during 2012, we can recommend the second highest number of beaches in the Province, so the benefits of NI Water’s investment are starting to become apparent,” he added.

MCS says that nationally 42 beaches (5.6 per cent) failed to meet even a minimum European standard, or equivalent, for bathing water quality – 17 more than in last year’s guide. Only one of these failing beaches was in Northern Ireland at Newcastle, County Down. Last year there were no failures in the Province.

Despite the good news for Northern Ireland, heavy rain and flooding last summer resulted in an increase in the amount of bacterial pollution found on beaches that failed. Bacterial pollution can originate from a variety of sources such as agricultural and urban run-off, storm waters, misconnected plumbing, septic tanks and dog faeces.

Sewage and animal waste is full of viruses and bacteria and most water users won’t be aware that this type of pollution can increase the chance of them going home with an ear, nose or throat infection or even gastroenteritis

Dr Keirle added: “Just because this is the second-best result on record for Northern Ireland’s beaches, it’s no time for complacency. There are still a lot of Combined Sewage Overflows (CSOs) that need attention, and farming is an important part of Northern Ireland’s economy so although the problems with discharges from NI Water’s sewage treatment works have been largely addressed, this has now exposed the significant impact diffuse pollution from agriculture and urban areas is having on NI’s coastal waters.”

MCS has been instrumental in starting the province’s Good Beach Summits, which were set up to as a direct result of poor water quality highlighted by MCS in 2011. Recently, Environment Minister Alex Attwood committed to continue with regular Good Beach Summits, which will ensure that pressure is maintained on the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), NI Water, farmers, landowners, councils and individuals to address these diffuse pollution issues.