You see it especially when the odd good day comes during a poor-weather summer when places like Inchydoney, Co Cork, and Ballybunion, Co Kerry, can be deserted for weeks in July, or August. But, a hint of sunshine can suddenly lure out the bucket and spade brigade in their thousands.
Ireland is maintaining its position as one of the leading northern European countries for overall bathing water quality, with 94% of our beaches meeting new and stricter standards introduced by the EU.
Three-quarters of our bathing waters have been rated ‘excellent’, which is a surprise given that lots of pollutants, untreated sewage especially, can enter the water from land-based sources.
However, seven beaches failed the minimum standards. They are: Ardmore, Co Waterford; Youghal (front strand), Co Cork; Ballyloughane and Clifden, Co Galway; Duncannon, Co Wexford; Lilliput, on Lough Ennel, Co Westmeath and Rush (south beach), Co Dublin.
In all seven cases the problems are caused by sewage discharges and the local authorities and Irish Water have put in place management plans to tackle the main pollution risks, says the EPA.
Looking at the bigger picture, a new report by the European Environment Agency says we cannot continue using our seas in the way we have been doing, amid problems caused by human activity and climate change.
Only a very limited number of marine habitats and species show favourable conservation status. Current pressures include physical damage to the seafloor, due to bottom-trawling in particular, introduction of non-native species, nutrient input from farm fertilisers, hazardous substance pollution and marine litter, chiefly plastic.
A large part of the pressures arises from activities at European seas, such as the extraction and production of fish, transport and energy production. Land-based activities — such as the use of agricultural fertilisers and industrial chemicals, and wastewater — also add to the pressures.
The report found 9% of marine habitats and 7% of marine species were in ‘favourable conservation status’, while 66% of habitat and 27% of species were ‘unfavourable’.
Despite ongoing research, however, what’s known about life in the seas remains very limited and the report calls for greater co-operation among EU countries and with other countries bordering the regional seas of Europe.