Official: Northern Ireland has the dirtiest beaches in the UK
Northern Ireland has the dirtiest beaches in the UK, a new Marine Conservation Survey (MCS) has revealed.
The region's beaches harbour the highest litter density, with 7,028 items per kilometre of shoreline uncovered in a survey last September, according to the new Beachwatch report.
However, this represents a drop of 14% from 2012, when there were 8,224 items per kilometre.
Surveys were carried out by volunteers at Brown's Bay, the Floodgates at Strangford Lough, Loughshore Park beach, Mill Quarter Bay, Millisle Lagoon Beach, Murlough National Nature Reserve and Newcastle.
The MCS said its volunteers picked up more litter than ever across the UK last year, finding an average of 2,309 items for every kilometre that was cleaned and surveyed – the highest level in the 20-year history of Beachwatch.
A total of 223,405 bits of litter were bagged up and removed by volunteers as part of the Beachwatch Big Weekend 2013.
"This is a disgusting tide of litter which is threatening the safety of beach visitors, both human and animal," MCS Beachwatch officer Lauren Eyles said.
"It's coming in from the sea, being blown from the land or simply being dumped and dropped.
"After 20 years of campaigning it's disheartening that in 2013 we are seeing worse litter levels than ever."
The bulk of the litter (39.4%) was dumped by the public – either dropped at the beach or carried in by wind or in rivers.
"Fishing debris accounted for 12.6% of the litter, while 4.5% came from shipping.
The group said 4.3% was sewage related debris, including cotton bud sticks, tampons and nappies, and 0.9% was fly-tipped rubbish.
Medical waste such as inhalers and syringes accounted to 0.2% of litter and 38.1% of the litter couldn't be identified.
"As well as half a TV, a French bullet-proof vest and a pack of bacon, there was a brass candlestick, some plastic bird feet, a birdcage, a bath plug, half a canoe and a set of dentures," Lauren Eyles said.
Top of the finds was once again plastic pieces.
These are tiny bits of plastic that have broken off larger items or have been in the sea for possibly decades and become smaller and smaller.
"Plastic is a real issue for our oceans and beaches.
"This year we also picked up lots of lids and caps.
"However, despite it being a really warm summer, we saw less crisp, sweets and lolly wrappers, and fewer plastic bottles.
"There's continued good news though for sewage-related debris (SRD) – there's still less of it about after we asked people, in 2011, to stop flushing things down the loo that should go in the bin," Lauren said.
During June the Marine Conservation Survey will be launching its Marine Litter Action Network, which will be tasked with changing behaviour in a variety of areas – from the plastics industry to manufacturing, retail to shipping.
MCS will be running beach cleans and surveys around the UK coast this spring and autumn, and is calling on the public to take part.
The first big event will take place at hundreds of beaches between April 24 and 30.
You can find out more and register at www.mcsuk.org/foreverfish.