Historic Summit Promises a Cleaner Safer Future for Northern Ireland Beaches
MCS says positive meeting could result in monumental agreements cleaning up the Province’s coastline
As a direct result of the Marine Conservation Society’s (MCS) Good Beach Guide published in May, Northern Ireland's Environment Minister, Alex Attwood, hosted the first ever ‘Good Beach Summit’ in the Province.
Three Northern Irish beaches failed to reach the European minimum legal water quality standard, out of the total of 24 that were sampled, compared to two last year. But although the overall picture is improving, water quality in Northern Ireland is still below the UK average.
The ‘Good Beach Summit’ saw key players from government and the voluntary sector come together to discuss coastal pollution issues for the first time in living memory. All involved have a responsibility for the state of the Province’s 24 designated bathing waters.
During the event, Minister Atwood announced he was willing to implement a plastic bag levy across Northern Ireland, which MCS is also striving to achieve across the rest of the UK. He also pledged to introduce a Marine Litter Strategy and Action Plan, which England and Wales have so far refused to do, but which Scotland is currently considering.
MCS’ Pollution Programme Manager Dr Robert Keirle gave a sobering overview of the pressures facing Northern Ireland’s beaches and the public health implications for beach goers.
“It’s the first time in the Province’s history that all key stakeholders have sat around the table and discussed and accepted the severity of the situation. The poor state of bathing water in the region is a direct legacy of years of chronic under-investment within Northern Ireland’s sewerage systems,” said Dr Keirle.
Dr Keirle went on to say that iconic stretches of the Province’s coastline, which includes the World Heritage Site Giant’s Causeway, were in danger of receiving a bathing prohibition notice if major investment isn’t introduced. “The bare facts are not just under-investment, there is also the added impact of hundreds of combined sewer overflows across the region, plus the problem of rain washing animal waste from fields into rivers and coastal waters.”
Minister Atwood says: “We are now mapping out a clear way forward to improve beaches in Northern Ireland, pushing limits and thinking radically. I will re-convene the Good Beach Summit in the third week of September. I want results and I will push myself and all of us to get more results.”
Dr Keirle says the future for Northern Ireland’s beaches have never looked brighter. “If the Minster actually follows up his words with actions this could create a template for similar changes across the rest of the UK. Everyone involved with the summit shares the same objective, we all want safer, cleaner seas. Throughout my twenty years of working in the environmental sector I have never had such a positive meeting resulting in such monumental agreements.”