More than 5,000 pieces of litter line every kilometre of beach in Northern Ireland, a shock study has found.
The disturbing survey by the environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful highlighted an increase in the amount of rubbish discarded on our beaches in 2015.
On average, across the 14 beaches studied, 1,500 pieces of plastic, 425 plastic drinks bottles and 180 cotton buds per kilometre were counted.
The findings were made in a three-year study, when the charity counted the number of pieces of litter found on beaches across the province.
The assessment focused on 14 reference beaches, including Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough, and found that the 2015 results were the worst yet.
The beaches where most litter was found were next to our three fishing harbours, although, according to the survey, most of the rubbish was not directly related to fishing.
Chris Allen, who managed the survey, said: "These are pretty stark figures. This report suggests that more litter is being dumped on our beaches, not less. Setting aside the dangers to wildlife, much of our country's economic prosperity is based on our natural heritage, and we are just trashing it.
"We have world-class beaches in this country. They fly Blue Flags for excellent facilities; they set the scene for enormously successful TV shows; tens of thousands of visitors come to enjoy them, but they are frequently covered in a load of plastic bottles, crisp packets and bits of string. Would you come back? Would you bring your friends?"
Mr Allen added: "Winter storms dumped tonnes of litter onto some beaches overnight, suggesting there is a huge reservoir of litter already in the sea, and we are just adding to it. We must come to terms with the damage we are doing to our own health and prosperity by dropping litter.
"Through volunteering programmes such as Live Here Love Here and Coast Care the people of Northern Ireland have demonstrated their appetite to be involved in and make a positive change to the places they enjoy. We support that, and we as a society should encourage it at every opportunity."
Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful is an environmental charity that aims to inspire people to take responsibility for creating cleaner, greener and more sustainable communities.
The charity reports that well over 3,000 hours were volunteered by people keen to improve their local beach and protect its wildlife, which resulted in almost 15.5 tonnes of litter being removed. The effect of the carrier bag levy is also starting to be seen, with no rise in the number of bags despite the growth in litter overall.
The figures were collected as part of a European requirement to monitor the amount and impact of litter in the sea, where it kills wildlife and damages boats.
Under EU legislation, the UK must have Good Environmental Status (GES) in its seas by 2020. GES is defined by 11 descriptors including the requirement that litter is at levels where it does not cause harm to the coastal and marine environments.