Northern Ireland reports cleanest waters in 15 years
Environment minister Alex Attwood has announced that all of Northern Ireland's 24 bathing waters passed EC Bathing Waters Directive mandatory standards for water quality in 2011.
Speaking last week (September 21), Mr Attwood said the results are the highest Northern Ireland has achieved since 1996. The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) samples the waters 20 times during the summer months to test for bacterial contamination and other indicators of pollution.
Its results show 20 of the beaches achieved the higher guideline standards, which ranks them as excellent, and will be eligible on water quality criteria, to apply for the Blue Flag award in 2012.
Meanwhile, the other four beaches, which included Ballygally, Brown's Bay, Ballyholme and Newcastle, passed the EC Bathing Waters Directive at the requirement level but at slightly lower mandatory level.
Commenting on the results, Mr Attwood said: "This is good and improving news for all of our beach users and shows that investment in all areas of water quality management is paying dividends."
However, he also warned that more needs to be done to meet further demanding EU directives.
In June the minister is hosted a second good beach summit, in a bid to encourage key players such as beach managers, local councils and campaign groups to work together to address the issues affecting beaches and bathing water standards.
The comparatively dry weather in August has been accredited with helping to improve coastal water quality but the minister warns that many seaside areas are still vulnerable to avoidable pollution events.
Mr Attwood added: "The revised Bathing Waters Directive is raising the bar and water quality standards will be even more demanding. By 2015 permitted bacterial levels will reduce by around 50%. Many of our bathing waters already achieve this standard but others will not meet the tighter standards."
An action plan has now been drawn up in a bid to improve water quality and beach cleanliness further.