A storm has broken over Northern Ireland’s beaches — as competing bodies war over which should be labelled the best.
The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) flagged up a 25% improvement in the province’s beaches in one year after it listed 16 out of 24 in its Good Beach Guide. The 16 beaches were labelled ‘excellent’ after being tested for water quality last summer.
All 24 seashores tested met EU bathing water standards, but the MCS cautioned against complacency, warning that more stringent standards will come into play this summer.
Dr Robert Keirle, MCS pollution programme manager, said: “This is a milestone for coastal resorts to be proud of, and shows the impact of the Guide over the last 25 years.”
Tidy Northern Ireland, which manages the Blue Flag beach awards, accused MCS of confusing the public by ignoring the beaches that meet EU standards.
The 2012 Blue Flag and Seaside Awards will be announced on May 24.
Chief executive Ian Humphreys said: “We are disappointed that the MCS has chosen to confuse the public with its list of beaches which fails to mention many more excellent beaches that meet EU bathing water quality standards.
“We would advise the public to check our website or pick up a map of award-winning beaches and marinas from any tourist information centre after May 24.
“All Blue Flag and Seaside Award beaches not only have water quality that meets the EU bathing water standards, but also through the investment and hard work of beach operators meet a wide range of criteria covering safety, services, information and education.
“It is also through the multi-million pound investment by NI Water to upgrade water treatment works that Northern Ireland’s bathing waters have improved.”
Last year the Good Beach Guide highlighted the poor condition of Northern Ireland’s bathing waters compared with the rest of the UK — prompting Environment Minister Alex Attwood to convene the first Good Beach Summit.
Mr Attwood said that Northern Ireland’s natural assets were a part of the quality of lives, tourist growth and new jobs.
“It is great to see our improving water standard being publicised throughout the islands. It is a good advert for the quality of our natural heritage,” he added.
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The 16 ‘excellent’ beaches in the Good Beach Guide are:
Magilligan Strand, Benone; Magilligan, Downhill; Castlerock; Portstewart, the Strand; Portrush, Mill (West) Strand; Portrush, Whiterocks; Portballintrae, Salmon Rock; Portrush, Curran (East) Strand; Waterfoot; Helen's Bay; Crawfordsburn; Groomsport; Millisle Lagoon; Ballywalter; Tyrella, and Cranfield.