Fears for the future of Northern Ireland beaches as littering soars by 50% in just one year
The amount of litter blighting Northern Ireland's shores has risen by more than 50% in a year, according to new figures released by the Department of the Environment.
More than 5,000 items were found per kilometre of coastline on average, the 2016 Northern Ireland Environmental Statistics Report revealed.
It showed that 5,332 items of litter were found per kilometre, more than 50% above the previous year's figure of 3,498 items/km.
The amount was also 21% more than the 10-year average of 4,421 items/km.
Fourteen beaches across Northern Ireland are surveyed annually by volunteers from Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful.
The report revealed that the most common types of litter were plastic and cord, followed by drinks bottles, bottle tops, sweet wrappers, tin cans and fast-food containers.
Ian Humphreys, chief executive of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, said everyone had their part to play in tackling the problem of marine litter, even if it is just to stop dropping it in the first place.
The group has launched its Live Here Love Here campaign for people who want to look after their local area.
"Marine litter has been described as a dire, vast and growing threat to the marine and coastal environment," Mr Humphreys said. "It is a global phenomenon, so solving it requires people working together across continents for many years to come."
"This does not mean leaving the solution to others. With 80% of marine litter coming from the land, we all have our part to play - if only to stop dropping litter in the first place. Joining the growing movement of people involved in Live Here Love Here is one positive way to become part of the solution.
"The result will be healthier places to live with less crime. Cleaner beaches will also attract more tourists, helping the local economy and creating jobs."
Mr Humphreys said Northern Ireland's annual BIG Spring Clean would take place in April and that people can get involved in a clean-up or even organise their own. A free clean-up kit can be requested at www.liveherelovehere.org.
The report revealed that illegal dumping of waste was the biggest environmental concern for households in Northern Ireland, but levels of public concern about the environment have dropped to 70% from a peak of 82% in 2008/9.
Under a third of monitored rivers are of a good standard or better, while only five out of 21 monitored lakes are classified as a good standard.
The data also showed that 14 of the 23 beaches monitored in Northern Ireland were classified as excellent, while seven were good and two were sufficient.
In 2014/5, almost a fifth of Northern Ireland's total electricity consumption was generated from renewable sources.
The total amount of municipal waste declined by a tenth between 2005/6 and 2014/5, while less than half (43%) of municipal waste was sent to the landfill in the latest year.
More than 1,000 Areas of Special Scientific Interest across Northern Ireland were assessed, and 68% of features were found to be in favourable condition, with 30% unfavourable - representing little change from 2014.
Meanwhile, at the end of 2015, 305,000 hectares of land in Northern Ireland (29%) were being managed under agri-environment schemes to help wildlife, a decrease of 6% compared with 2014.
There was an increase in the listings of buildings, up from 8,191 in 2003/4 to 8,702 in 2014/5.