Fewer than half of State’s beaches and harbours deemed clean

Cork Harbour at Blackrock Castle and White Bay, Co Cork among worst areas surveyed

Just 40 per cent of 32 coastal areas surveyed were deemed clean to “European norms”. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Just 40 per cent of 32 coastal areas surveyed were deemed clean to “European norms”. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

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Fewer than half of the State’s beaches and harbours have been deemed clean, but the situation is getting better, according to an annual survey published by Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL).

Cork Harbour at Blackrock Castle and White Bay in Co Cork were “heavily littered” and among the worst areas surveyed, while Salthill suffers from “overflowing litter bins” and dumped coffee cups, fast-food litter and sweet wrappers, clothing and plastics.

Beaches, harbours, rivers and their immediate environs were monitored by the Environmental Education Unit of An Taisce in June and July on behalf of IBAL, which last led a survey two years ago.

The beaches declared clean were Brittas Bay, Curracloe, Lahinch, Clogherhead, Portmarnock and Strandhill, though Bundoran, Keel in Mayo and Dog’s Bay in Galway join Salthill on the littered list.

The seafront in Bray was praised by the inspectors, as was Kilmore Quay in Wexford and Dún Laoghaire, but Kinsale, Bantry and Castletownbere harbours in Co Cork failed to make the grade.

In all, just 40 per cent of 32 coastal areas surveyed were deemed clean to “European norms”, but this is an improvement on the survey results two years ago when just 16 per cent passed the European test.

“This is especially encouraging given the number of people who are staycationing and availing of our coastal amenities this year. There is evidence that many local authorities have upped their game in terms of additional bins, facilities and signage.

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“However, at the bottom end of the table, we’ve seen many areas deteriorate from ‘moderately littered’ to ‘littered’,” Conor Horgan of IBAL told The Irish Times.

According to the An Taisce report, Cork Harbour at Blackrock Castle “was heavily littered with marine litter and cans from outdoor drinking, coffee cups and plastic packaging. There was an even mix of long and short lie litter and amongst the marine and food related litter there was a discarded wheelbarrow”.

The beach at White Bay was “stuffed with small pieces of broken up long-lie litter and sewage-related litter such as cotton buds and bottle tops”.

Curracloe and Portmarnock

Among the areas to receive a positive report was Curracloe in Wexford, where the beach and car park were “remarkably clean given the level of activity”.

Portmarnock, which improved on 2019, was complimented for “large areas which were completely free of litter”.

“The approach from the public car park was a lovely one and beautifully managed. The expansive area is exceptionally well served by litter bins and opportunities to separate waste on the beach itself.

“As well as local authorities, credit is due to the growing number of Clean Coasts volunteer groups, now 1,500-strong, who work so hard to keep our beaches free of litter. Their efforts are clearly bearing fruit,” adds Mr Horgan.

Mr Horgan says the most common forms of litter found by the assessors were cigarette butts, sweet wrappers, disposable masks and plastic bottles, with coffee cups also featuring strongly. He said that alcohol cans were found in almost half of all sites.

“The majority of these litter items are plastics, whose impact on the marine environment is a source of global concern.

“Cigarette butts, for example, may appear harmless, but they are in effect a single-use plastic which poses a real danger to our sea life. Research shows a single butt can contaminate up to 200 litres of water.

“We all need to realise that the implications of litter along our coasts go beyond tourism and recreation. It presents an existential threat to our planet and way of life.”