Beaches pass water quality tests
All Northern Ireland's recognised swimming beaches have passed water quality tests - the first clean sweep since current European regulations were brought in 20 years ago.
All 23 of the region's identified bathing waters were classified as having good water quality or better, with 20 gaining an excellent rating.
The 100% mandatory standard pass rate is a first for Northern Ireland since monitoring under the EC Bathing Waters Directive began in 1994.
Stormont Environment Minister Mark H Durkan hailed the results. "This is brilliant news for bathers," he said.
"Northern Ireland's beaches are some of the finest in Europe and one of our best assets. It is fantastic to see our beaches performing so well on water quality."
Mr Durkan highlighted work his department had undertaken with partner agencies.
"A lot of work has been carried out particularly in catchments that have previously had poorer water quality," he added.
"NI Water made significant improvements to the sewage treatment network and this is now paying off in our water quality results.
"The greatest threat to our bathing water quality is heavy rainfall. Whilst we did experience some great weather in June and July, August and September brought some very heavy downpours so it would seem that the new infrastructure is managing that pollution risk and better protecting our bathing waters.
"There is still no room for complacency though. We continue to work closely with our partners and will investigate any bathing water sample failure as a priority incident."
In 2012 only one beach failed to pass the mandatory standards.
Much stricter standards for assessing bathing water quality are set to be introduced in 2015.
Mr Durkan said improved signage at beaches and a new website would enable people to make a better informed choice about where and when to participate in activities at the region's beaches.
"We have a wonderful coastline which must be protected for everyone's enjoyment," he added.
"Whether you walk or swim, surf or sunbathe, birdwatch or picnic, a visit to the coast should be a great day out for everyone."
The beaches monitored in Northern Ireland are Magilligan (Benone), Magilligan (Downhill), Castlerock, Portstewart, Portrush (Mill), Portrush (Curran), Portrush (Whiterocks), Portballintrae (Salmon Rock), Ballycastle, Waterfoot, Carnlough, Ballygalley, Brown's Bay, Helen's Bay, Crawfordsburn, Ballyholme, Groomsport, Millisle, Ballywalter, Tyrella, Murlough Co. Down, Newcastle, and Cranfield Bay.
For more information visit www.beachni.com.