Almost half of Ireland’s waterways are littered, with landmark areas of Cork Harbour and a popular tourist spot on the Wild Atlantic Way labelled litter blackspots, a new survey has found.
Business group Irish Business Against Litter’s (IBAL) first nationwide survey on our rivers, beaches, and harbours found that almost 40% of all areas surveyed were deemed littered, with just four of the 50 sites deemed clean to European norms.
The most common forms of litter found were cigarette butts, sweet wrappers, plastic bottles, and cans.
IBAL warned more needs to be done to manage the consequences of the success of the Wild Atlantic Way initiative, such as litter, to sustain its appeal.
In what is set to be an annual survey, IBAL commissioned the Environmental Education Unit of An Taisce to monitor beaches, harbours, rivers, and their immediate environs during the summer.
Just one beach, at Salthill, was deemed clean, while the popular resorts of Lahinch and Bundoran were both littered.
Parts of the River Shannon, at Lanesborough in Longford and Carrick-on-Shannon, were assessed as clean to European norms, but the Shannon at Portumna in Galway was heavily littered, as was the River Suir in Waterford City.
The An Taisce report praised Kinsale Harbour in Co Cork as “remarkably free of litter for a busy harbour attracting lots of tourists”.
It said Salthill was notable for “a virtual absence of litter throughout the beach, promenade, changing and parking areas”.
But by contrast, the assessor cited “large accumulations of litter” such as “wood pallets, plastic containers and pieces of large plastic” in the area at Blackrock Castle in Cork, while the Ballinacurra-Midleton area of Cork Harbour was described as a “persistently heavily littered site throughout”.
The pier at Doolin was criticised for “high levels of litter and dumping” with assessors describing it as a “very unpleasant site” for tourists.
IBAL spokesperson Conor Horgan said the success of the Wild Atlantic Way is placing strains on infrastructure of various kinds.
“Litter is a likely consequence of this and it is one local authorities need to manage to ensure the appeal of the Way is sustained,” he said.
He also pointed to the contrast of the results of this waterways survey with the results of IBAL’s recent towns survey which found 75% of areas to be clean.
“Sadly, accumulations of litter in and around our waterways are a common sight in Ireland and this is borne out by these disappointing results,” said Mr Horgan.
“If we can call our towns clean, we cannot say the same for the areas around our beaches and rivers,” he said.
It took almost 10 years of naming and shaming for local authorities to get to grips with litter in our towns.
“IBAL has set about pushing for a similar turnabout in respect of coastal areas and waterways.”
IBAL has been publishing litter surveys since 2002 as part of its Anti-Litter League programme, which has helped bring about a spectacular shift in litter levels in towns.
Mr Horgan said he hopes the new campaign focusing on waterways will also put a focus on plastic litter which is threatening the marine environment.