Sandymount Strand branded ‘poor’ in Irish bathing waters report

Seven coastal bathing waters ‘vulnerable to pollution’ fail to meet minimum standard

Nearly three-quarters of monitored Irish bathing waters are of “excellent” standard but there is evidence of deterioration in coastal areas around Dublin, where five of 15 monitored beaches are classified as “poor”.

The latest Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Bathing Water Quality in Ireland report for 2017 classifies 132 of 142 identified waters as meeting strict EU standards, which provide a high level of protection for bathers.

A total of 102 beaches and bathing waters were "excellent"; the same number as in 2016. However, seven coastal bathing waters failed to meet the minimum standard and are "vulnerable to pollution events" – five are in Dublin (Merrion Strand, Sandymount Strand, Loughshinny, Portrane and Rush South), and two in Galway (Clifden and Ballyloughane).

Sandymount joined the “poor” list after being classified of “sufficient” quality in 2015 and 2016. Over the past four years, nine of the 15 bathing waters in Dublin have shown deterioration in water quality.


Bacterial contamination

Andy Fanning, programme manager of the EPA Office of Evidence and Assessment, said: "Our assessment shows urban beaches are under greater pressure than those in more rural locations. More needs to be done to eliminate sources of bacterial contamination that are particular to urban locations.

“The main issues are misconnections to surface water drains and other run-off from urban environments, together with sewage discharges. Work is needed by local authorities, Irish Water, businesses and homeowners to ensure that contaminated wastewater is correctly collected and treated before being released into the environment.”

Relevant local authorities, with Irish Water, had plans in place to tackle the main pollution risks at these beaches with a view to improving them to at least “sufficient” quality, he said.

Dublin's difficulties are compounded by almost a quarter of Ireland's population living in or around the capital

Dublin Bay, a United Nations-designated biosphere of international significance, is an important habitat for seabirds, wildlife and aquatic species “despite pressures including the country’s largest port and wastewater works”.

Like all waters close to major European cities, the main pollution threats are sewage discharges, contaminated surface streams, birds and other animals, the report states.

Dublin’s difficulties are compounded by almost a quarter of Ireland’s population living in or around the capital, while several beaches in Fingal are at risk of pollution from sewage and surface streams, especially after heavy rainfall.

Seabird droppings, which have as much as 10 million E.coli bacteria per gram, are a particular threat where large numbers of birds are present, notably at Merrion and Sandymount beaches.

The 142 identified bathing waters are either coastal or inland waters widely used by the public for bathing and are monitored, managed and assessed under the requirements of the 2008 Bathing Water Quality Regulations. All nine monitored lakes achieved “excellent” or “good” classifications.

From 2018, three new beaches are designated for protection under the bathing water regulations: Dooey and Magheroarty (Co Donegal), and Seafield Quilty (Co Clare).

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times