Blow to tourism after five of our top beaches lose Blue Flag status
Almost half of Northern Ireland's beaches have lost their coveted Blue Flags because of tougher new water quality standards.
The number of beaches receiving the award has dropped from 11 to six, it was revealed today.
Two marinas retained their Blue Flag.
The reduction in the accolades has been blamed on stricter EU bathing standards introduced this year. The UK and Republic of Ireland have also seen their Blue Flags slashed. The five beaches missing out this time are Downhill, Castlerock, Portrush East, Crawfordsburn and Cranfield West.
In total, 18 beaches and two marinas received awards.
The Blue Flag award was presented to six beaches: Magilligan, Benone; Portrush West; Tyrella; Murlough; Portstewart and Whiterocks, with the latter two celebrating their 10th anniversaries in the programme. Ballycastle Marina and Ballyronan Marina also received Blue Flags. Fifteen beaches – including three which were presented with Blue Flags – were also awarded Seaside Awards.
The accolades will be handed over at Tyrella Beach in Co Down today by Environment Minister Alex Attwood who said: "The awards demonstrate the commitment of coastal councils and the National Trust to providing clean, safe, well managed beach facilities," he said.
The flag awards are administered by Tidy Northern Ireland whose chief executive, Ian Humphreys, said more beaches would be flying the flags this year if the Foundation for Environmental Education had not brought forward new standards on water quality two years ahead of schedule. He said water quality at beaches is as good as ever.
The classification of the bathing water is now based on samples from a four-year period instead of results from a single season.
Stephen Finlay, director of corporate development at the Northern Ireland Tourist Board which sponsors the awards, said our beaches were an important attraction for tourists.
Northern Ireland Blue Flag beaches and marinas 2013:
* Magilligan, Benone
* Portstewart Strand
* Portrush West
* Tyrella Beach
* Murlough Beach
* Ballyronan Marina
* Ballycastle Marina