Northern Ireland's beaches are coated with almost 3,500 pieces of litter for every kilometre, a new survey has revealed.
But the figures are even more shocking on beaches close to the main fishing ports on the east coast, with Kilkeel clocking up more than 10,000 pieces of litter per kilometre.
Volunteers carrying out the second annual coastal survey for environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful counted 10,193 items of litter scattered along the beach at Kilkeel, 7,258 at Ardglass and 7,895 at Portavogie. The cleanest beach surveyed was Hazelbank on Belfast Lough, with 763 pieces of litter/km.
More than 75% of the litter was plastic that could easily be recycled, and much came from people discarding litter on land, according to Chris Allen, who manages the survey.
Enough plastic bottles were collected to fill six full-sized shipping containers, as well as almost 500 pieces of string and cord per kilometre.
Mr Allen said: "These results show just how big a problem litter is for Northern Ireland. Our culture of dropping litter in the expectation that someone else will deal with it is unsustainable.
"All this litter is putting people off visiting our beaches, attractions and towns. We spend around £40 million a year cleaning our streets, and lose many millions more from tourists who are turned off by how dirty our country is."
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said: "I want to thank Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful for their work on this important survey which shows the extent of the problem we have in keeping our beaches clean.
"We will need a step change in our attitude to litter if we are serious about promoting the tourism potential of our beautiful beaches and a clean and healthy environment. We all have role to play - it's not someone else's problem.
"It is good news that many volunteer and community groups across the North work selflessly and give up their spare time to clean up our shores, sea loughs and estuaries. We have a lot to learn from their example."
In Northern Ireland action to remove litter has included volunteer beach cleans, with more than 1,800 hours of beach cleaning volunteered in this survey alone. Meanwhile, the NI Fishery Harbour Authority is supporting fishing vessels to bring litter caught in their nets back to land to be disposed of responsibly.
However, preventing litter entering the sea in the first place is a much more effective way of improving the environment. Action includes education through programmes such as Eco-Schools and through council litter enforcement and fixed penalties.
You can read the report at www.keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org.