Our scenic unspoilt coastline
has been a strong selling point for Ireland overseas.
Swept by the tides and winds of the clean Atlantic
we've huge natural marine advantages
compared to the rest of Europe.
Potentially the quality of our bathing water is very good.
Unfortunately however, we've neglected what we have.
The latest figures show Ireland has 78 Blue Flag beaches
down on previous years.
7 bathing spots within the Dublin coastal region
lost their Blue Flag status
by failing to maintain their strict water quality criteria
following floods last August.
We did have a number of Blue Flag losses in the Dublin Area this year
because of breaches in the water quality criteria
as laid down by the Blue Flag coordination.
What are the issues that you look out for?
In the Blue Flag we look at 29 different criteria.
Water quality is only one of these.
We also look at litter levels on the beaches,
how they are managed in an environmental way,
whether they have recycling in place,
we look at the toilet facilities etcetera,
all to judge a beach on whether it is coming up to standard for Blue Flag.
In the last decade North County Dublin
has become one of the fastest growing areas in the country.
With all this new building development pressure
Fingal County Council struggles to maintain bathing water standards.
Bathing water quality in the Fingal Area can be mixed,
there are about 4 or 5 beaches that
on and off would receive a Blue Flag Award
and then lose it again a couple of years later.
Balbriggan faces additional pressures from its busy harbour,
its river and waste water from the many new developments
that have sprung up in the area.
Traditionally Balbriggan has not been as good
as some of the beaches in Fingal
and I can never recall a time when Balbriggan had a Blue Flag beach.
Dublin wastewater treatment plants overflowed
when last summer's rain deluges caused extensive flooding
resulting in havoc across the Eastern Region.
It was an accident waiting to happen.
Many old storm drains still combine with foul sewers
together with septic tanks flushed E.coli and other pathogens into Dublin Bay.
Not surprisingly, Portrane and Killiney lost their Blue Flags.
The rainfall events that happened in the East Coast
would have been unprecedented.
The West of Ireland would be more used to this level of rainfall
so therefore we didn't see such spikes
in poor water quality as we did along the Eastern seaboard this year.
And where did floods affect most?
There was a loss of a Blue Flag
at Killiney Beach in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown.
This was due to the heavy rainfall that we had
putting pressure on the wastewater treatment plants.
And also massive inflows of water coming into the Dublin Bay area
which would have had a negative impact on water quality
at Killiney Beach and ultimately we had to remove the Blue Flag.
This can have a knock on affect on our health.
Where sewage gets flushed into bathing water
swimmers are at risk of ear, throat and lung infections.
That's why Local Authorities have to closely monitor water quality.
We normally look out for 2 microbiological organisms
the first is obviously total coli forms and E.coli primarily
and E.coli is the normal indicator for sewage in the bathing water.
The normal way that people would get infected
is through the mucus membranes of the nose, the eyes,
the mouth and in through the ears as well.
A Blue Flag water status provides a greater assurance
and protection of our health
so every week George Sharpson and his team
test the 13 bathing sites in the Fingal area.
We simply take the sample here
and we convey it to the laboratory
and it's there that it's actually tested for the bacteria.
Normally it takes about 48 hours for the test to be completed
and then we would receive a microbiological report the following morning.
So if there's an outbreak in the water
you won't know for a couple of days after it?
That's correct. If there is a contamination incident
you could still be talking about 48 hours before we know about it
and get the signage at the beach warning the public
that it should not be used for bathing purposes.
The downside of the testing regime is that it takes days to get results back,
an issue the team at Fingal are now trying to address.
The new Directive requires much tighter standards
for the purpose of protecting public health.
The waters will have to be classed
into either of being of excellent quality,
of good quality, of sufficient quality
or of poor quality
and all waters will have to at least
reach a sufficient quality level in Ireland
as in the rest of Europe.
It's not just along the coast.
Our inland bathing areas face pressures too
from septic tanks, agricultural run-off and wastewater treatment plants.
There are signs of improvement however
such as upgrades at Shanganagh Treatment Plant near Killiney
and the installation of a state of the art
UV sterilisation and filtration plant at Barnagera in Fingal.
These measures should reduce contamination to bathing water
if flooding occurs again.
The new pumping station there actually has an underground tank,
a storm water overflow tank
and that has assisted greatly in
preventing those types of incidents from occurring there.
Across Ireland, towns and villages
have built entire tourist industries around the promise of
safe, clean beaches and bathing water that a Blue Flag guarantees.
Ballybunion in North Kerry is one of the most popular family seaside resorts.
Its two pristine Blue Flag beaches are a huge draw in the summer.
Blue Flag status is hugely important to us in Ballybunion
apart from our local people who use the beach all year round
we attract in excess of 10,000 visitors to this town
and the reason they are here is because of the beach.
My own local business here which is self-catering,
we cater predominantly for the family market
in the July and August months and
to have a Blue Flag and have the Blue Flag status is hugely important
to keeping visitors happy and coming back every year.
But what about our rural coast and beaches
without the amenity infrastructure needed for a Blue Flag?
To protect unspoilt environments like this strand
near Ardmore in County Waterford,
An Taisce have introduced a new EU initiative,
it's called the Green Coast Award.
It's an award that's based on excellent water quality, the same as Blue Flag
and we are looking mostly at rural beaches prized by local people.
We'd also hope that local people
would take an active role in the management of these beaches
through a programme called Coastcare.
It's really to get people involved on a local level.
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