Most of our bathing spots meet standards — but seabirds playing role in pollution

Youghal Front Strand

EPA classifies 102 of 142 bathing waters as ‘excellent’ and 18 as ‘good’ but warns about bacterial contamination caused by bird droppings

The rise in the number of birds — and their droppings — at some of Ireland’s beaches may be contributing to the pollution of some of the country’s bathing spots, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

While the vast majority of Ireland’s 142 bathing waters met minimum EU standards last year, the EPA found that seven areas in Dublin and Galway fell short of requirements.

It also warned that a further 17 areas that were found to have met benchmark requirements are more vulnerable to losing their classification as bathing waters that meet minimum standards.

Publishing its 2017 Bathing Water Quality in Ireland report, the EPA said that these vulnerable spots show impacts from pollution sources from time to time, especially in urban areas.

It says that given the right combination of circumstances any one of these vulnerable waters could result in being assigned a ‘poor’ classification.

While it identified sewage and surface streams as significant contributors to the pollution suffered by some beaches, the EPA also said that birds and their droppings may be playing their part in declining water standards.

The report said: “Seabird droppings have as much as 10 million E.coli bacteria per gram so it is perhaps no surprise that beaches where large numbers of birds are to be found, such as at Merrion and Sandymount, are showing impacts which may be contributing to a decline in quality as microbiological standards have become stricter and bird numbers appear to be increasing.”

Our assessment shows that urban beaches are under greater pressure than those in more rural locations,” said Andy Fanning, programme manager of the EPA’s Office of Evidence and Assessment.

“More needs to be done to eliminate the 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 home-owners to ensure that contaminated wastewater is correctly collected and treated before being released into the environment.”

Bathing waters that were assessed are judged as either ‘excellent’, ‘good’, ‘sufficient’, or ‘poor’.

Almost three-quarters of bathing waters (102 of 142) were classified as ‘excellent’. A further 18 were classified as ‘good’.

Twelve bathing areas (7.1%) were classified as being of ‘sufficient’ water quality but remain at risk of episodic pollution events.

Seven bathing waters (4.9%) failed to meet the minimum required standard and were classified as being of ‘Poor’ quality.

These were Sandymount and Merrion strands, Loughshinny, Portrane, and Rush South in Dublin, and Ballyloughane in Galway city and Clifden, Co Galway.

Four bathing water areas have shown improvements from 2016 to 2017.

The Warren (Creggane Strand) in Rosscarbery, Co Cork, has moved up from ‘sufficient’ to ‘good’, as has Duncannon in Wexford. Trá na bhForbacha in Galway went from ‘poor’ to ‘sufficient’, and Ardmore in Co Waterford now has an ‘excellent’ classification.

The EPA said that Youghal Front Strand has shown improvements since 2015, and has a ‘sufficient’ classification “largely because of improvements in wastewater management”.

It further said that the region will benefit from a new wastewater treatment plant, due to be commissioned this year, which, the EPA says, “should bring about further improvements”.

It remains on the ‘vulnerable’ list, however, due to sewage discharges and river inputs.

Youghal Front Strand has shown improved performance from 2015 through 2017 but it can still exhibit slight deteriorations in water quality,” warned the EPA.

The other ‘vulnerable’ locations are Garrryvoe, Warren (Creggane Strand), and Coolmaine in Cork; Lady’s Bay, Buncranna, in Donegal; Balbriggan, Rush North beach, Claremont, Skerries, and Donabate in Fingal; Grattan Road, Trá na mBan, Trá na bhForbacha, and Céibh an Spidéil in Galway; Bunmahon River in Waterford; Lilliput in Westmeath; and Duncannon in Wexford.

Peter Webster, EPA senior scientific officer, said that members of the public who want to know the quality of their bathing water can consult the agency’s website.

“During the summer, current water quality information and details of any incidents affecting bathing waters will be displayed on the website,,” he said.

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