Three beaches in the Triangle area of the North Coast have been slammed by surfers for being swamped with sewage.
A clean-water campaign group has called for 30 beaches around the UK to be stripped of their Blue Flag status, which assures swimmers of water quality.
Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) said certain seaside areas were not meeting strict requirements set down by the Blue Flag programme and has installed a counterpoint Brown Flag at an English beach to warn bathers.
Castlerock, in Co Londonderry, and West Strand and White Rocks, both in Portrush, Co Antrim, have been singled out after a Freedom of Information request revealed they were some of the 35 beaches where operators did not meet the Blue Flag programme's requirement to warn the public when the beach was polluted by sewage.
Andy Cummins, SAS campaigns director, said: “This disturbing revelation questions the integrity of the prestigious Blue Flag programme. At 35 beaches around the UK the Blue Flag can be flying — and people could be in the sea bathing in sewage-polluted waters — without warning.
“To ensure the Blue Flag isn't devalued, SAS is urging Blue Flag's governing body to lower these 35 Blue Flags until they meet all the imperative criteria.”
One Blue Flag criteria states: “As long as the hazard persists, the public should be informed of the pollution or potential danger by posting information at the beach, at all access points, in the media, or other relevant means. If the hazard is in the form of polluted water then the public must be informed that bathing is not safe and the beach should be closed to swimming.”
A Blue Flag should be removed while the beach is polluted, but SAS said these 35 beaches breached the criteria by not providing information.
Mayor of Coleraine and Portrush resident Norman Hillis said all Blue Flag beaches were allowed two ‘fails’ per year for water quality and all three beaches did not exceed that figure last year.
He said: “We have five Blue Flag |beaches in the Causeway Coast area and each are tested for water quality twice a week.
“Indeed, at the National Trust beach in Portstewart, the water test results can actually be checked by members of the public at the information point, we have nothing to hide. Lots of things can cause a sewage incident, including heavy rain.
“Blue Flag beaches are tested twice weekly and are allowed two fails per year and the fact that beaches around the North Coast and Triangle area are being given the Blue Flag status year after year proves they can’t be that bad. It is a standard of excellence, which we continually meet — just being good, isn’t good enough.”