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Just 40% of Irish coasts and harbours 'clean by European standards', study finds

Cigarettes, alcohol cans and disposable masks were some of the most common items dumped on our coastlines.

Image: Environmental Education Unit An Taisce

A NATIONWIDE STUDY carried out by Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL) has found that the majority of beaches and harbours across Ireland are falling short of receiving ‘clean’ status.

While 40% of 32 coastal areas surveyed were deemed ‘clean to European norms’, there was a rise in areas branded ‘littered’. Cork Harbour at Blackrock Castle and White Bay in Cork, both ‘heavily littered’, were the worst areas surveyed.

Some areas have improved in recent years, the study found, but one in three have been branded as ‘littered’ or ‘heavily littered’.

For the study, beaches, harbours, rivers and their immediate environs were monitored by the Environmental Education Unit of An Taisce in June and July.

Among the clean beaches were Brittas Bay, Curracloe, Lahinch, Clogherhead, Portmarnock and Strandhill.

By contrast, Bundoran, Keel in Mayo and Salthill and Dogs Bay in Galway were littered.

The seafront in Bray was praised, as was Kilmore Quay and Dun Laoghaire, but Kinsale, Bantry and Castletownbere harbours all failed to make the grade.       

“The story is a positive one in that we’ve seen a welcome rise in the number of clean beaches and harbours compared to our study of 2 years ago,” Conor Horgan of IBAL said.

“However, at the bottom end of the table, we’ve seen many areas deteriorate from ‘moderately littered’ to ‘littered’,” he added.

According to the An Taisce report, Cork Harbour at Blackrock Castle “was heavily littered with marine litter and cans from outdoor drinking, coffee cups and plastic packaging”.

Previously among the cleanest beaches surveyed, this time Salthill was subject to “overflowing litter bins and substantial fast-food / food-related litter on top of and at the base of street bins”.

Along the beach the main items were coffee cups, fast-food litter and sweet wrappers, along with several clothing items, plastic toys and food utensils.”

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The study found that the most common forms of litter found were cigarette butts, sweet wrappers, disposable masks and plastic bottles, with coffee cups also featuring strongly. 

“The majority of these litter item are plastics, whose impact on the marine environment is a source of global concern,” said Horgan. 

“Cigarette butts, for example, may appear harmless, but they are in effect a single-use plastic which poses a real danger to our sea life.” Research shows a single butt can contaminate up to 200 litres of water. 

“We all need to realise that the implications of litter along our coasts go beyond tourism and recreation. It presents an existential threat to our planet and way of life.” 

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