Perfect ten as Northern Ireland beaches win coveted Blue Flag awards
Ten beaches and two marinas across Northern Ireland have won Blue Flags, recognising their world class facilities and water quality.
Environment Minister Michelle McIlveen said the awards would let people around the world know that Northern Ireland is open for business and that its beaches are first class destinations.
Blue flags were awarded to Castlerock, Cranfield Bay, Crawfordsburn, Benone, Downhill, Murlough, Portrush West, Portstewart Strand, Tyrella and Whiterocks as well as Ballycastle and Ballyronan Marinas.
Resort Seaside Awards were made to Ballycastle, Crawfordsburn, Portrush East and Portstewart Strand, indicating that the waters reach the 'sufficient' standard for the Revised Bathing Water Directive.
Seaside Rural Awards were made to Ballygally, Ballywalter South, Brown's Bay, Carnlough, Groomsport, Millisle and Waterfoot - these were to beaches that have more limited facilities.
The awards were presented to each beach yesterday on the first day of the 2016 bathing season by the international director of the Blue Flag programme, Sophie Bachet Granados, the new Minister for Agriculture, the Environment and Rural Affairs Michelle McIlveen and Andrew Patterson from Tourism NI, which supports the awards in Northern Ireland, at an event in the Arcadia building in Portrush.
Mrs Bachet Granados said: "I've had the chance to see some of the beautiful beaches here and speak to the operators, and I'm very impressed by the standards.
"As a mark of excellence recognised across Europe, Africa, North and South America and as of this year Asia, Blue Flag beaches represent the best in coastal recreation management."
Ms McIlveen said: "I am delighted that once again so many of Northern Ireland's beaches have received the coveted Blue Flag and Seaside Awards and that our first-class marinas have also been recognised.
"These awards are testament to the hard work and dedication of those who manage our beaches. These hard-won awards let people around the world know that Northern Ireland is open for business and that our beaches are first class destinations: clean, healthy and safe to enjoy."
The International Blue Flag award recognises beaches with the highest standards of facilities and water quality and is a mark of excellence in 49 countries. It is administered locally by environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful.
Blue Flag beaches offer the highest standard of visitor facilities including toilets, lifeguards if necessary, first aid during peak hours and disabled access onto the beach. In order to promote an inclusive atmosphere for families with small children, activities such as windsurfing are zoned while dogs are not permitted within the award area.
A further 11 beaches have received the Seaside Award, which recognises beaches with safe and clean bathing water as well as appropriate facilities for the number of visitors they receive in both resort and rural settings.
Both awards are based upon the bathing water quality at each beach over the past four years, with the requirements laid down by the revised EU Bathing Water Directive.
This is the first year since the new stricter classifications were introduced and all 23 identified bathing waters in Northern Ireland have met the minimum standards, something which has still not been achieved in England or Scotland.