88 Blue Flags handed out although three Irish beaches lose coveted status
Three popular beaches have been forced to lower their coveted Blue Flag.
But Ireland still managed to hit a new record high for the quality and cleanliness of coastal waters despite the dip in standards at Lisfannon in Donegal, Killiney in south Dublin and Balcarrick, at Donabate in north Dublin.
A total of 88 Blue Flags are to be raised at 81 beaches and seven marinas this summer.
An Taisce said it awarded three more than the 2016 season with Portumna in Co Galway and Greencastle Marina in Co Donegal hoisting the international hallmark for the first time.
Elsewhere, the South Promenade in Bray, Co WIcklow will fly the Blue Flag for the first time since 2000 after improvements in sewage treatment in recent years.
Ross beach, near Killala in Co Mayo, regained Blue Flag status lost in 2016 as did the south coast surf spots of Redbarn and Garretstown in Cork.
Kerry came out on top of the awards with 13 beaches and one marina getting to fly the flag this year.
An Taisce also gave out 61 Green Coast Awards, an increase of five on last year and the highest number to date.
They are given to locations which do not have the facilities for Blue Flag status but are recognised for their cleanliness, excellent water quality and natural beauty.
The Blue Flag is awarded to more than 4,000 beaches and marinas in 49 countries across Europe, South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada and the Caribbean.
Dr Michael John O'Mahony, director at An Taisce's environmental education unit, paid tribute to the thousands of volunteers taking part in beach clean-ups to improve standards.
"It is the work of the local authorities and clean coasts volunteers that ensures that Ireland's fantastic beaches remain clean and safe for everyone to enjoy," he said.
The awards were launched by Senator Jerry Buttimer in the Royal Cork Yacht Club in Crosshaven, Cork.
"Over the years, the programme has become a highly respected and recognised eco-label working to bring together the tourism and environmental sectors.
"There are also very tangible economic benefits to be derived from our marvellous coastal environment and quality facilities, both at local, regional and national levels," he said.
The Blue Flag awards follow last week's water quality report from the Environmental Protection Agency which found six bathing spots did not meet European standards for cleanliness.
Most of the issues commonly relate to waste water from sewage treatment plants, run-off from farmland and bird faeces.