Bathing water quality

How the quality of bathing water is tested, the latest microbiological results for each of Northern Ireland's beaches and how these results are assessed against the standards set by the EC Bathing Water Directive.

Northern Ireland’s Bathing Water Compliance 2016

Bathing water 2016 Classification
Magilligan (Benone) Excellent
Magilligan (Downhill) Excellent
Portstewart Excellent
Portrush (Mill) West Excellent
Portrush (Whiterocks) Excellent
Portballintrae Excellent
Brown's Bay Excellent
Helen's Bay Excellent
Tyrella Excellent
Murlough Excellent
Cranfield (Cranfield Bay) Excellent
Castlerock Good
Ballycastle Good
Waterfoot Good
Carnlough Good
Ballygally Good
Crawfordsburn Good
Groomsport Good
Millisle Good
Ballywalter Good
Portrush (Curran) East Sufficient
Newcastle Sufficient
Ballyholme Poor

How is bathing water quality tested?

The Bathing Water Directive 2006/7/EC sets quality standards for bathing water. All countries in the European Union have to ensure that their bathing waters meet these standards. Bathing water quality is monitored by DAERA Marine and Fisheries Division. One of its responsibilities is to ensure coastal waters are of high enough quality for the general public to bathe in.

The bathing season runs from June through to mid-September during which water quality is assessed on 20 different occasions. Water samples are collected and analysed by DAERA Marine and Fisheries Division.

Bathing Water Quality information is updated weekly during the bathing season and displayed in the format of colour-coded posters. These posters are circulated to all beach operators for public display. Most authorities display the posters at the bathing water site, council or tourist information offices.

For up to date information on bathing water quality in Northern Ireland please see the NI Direct website.

Compliance with EC Bathing Water Directive

The directive requires each country to identify its most popular bathing waters for regular testing. In Northern Ireland 23 sites are formally identified, and it continues to have some of the best water quality in Europe. 

When bathing water quality fails to meet a certain standard, NIEA carries out a pollution investigation to find a possible source of the contamination. Faecal pollution can arise from sewage outfalls, combined sewer overflows or from agricultural sources. The latter can be from various sources of pollution and can be difficult to control.

Nomination of new bathing waters

Should interested parties wish to nominate a site for consideration as a formally identified bathing water, they may do so at any time, subject to the nomination meeting certain criteria. These criteria include:

  • provision of initial usage evidence at the site (the selection criteria for candidate sites is over 45 bathers on at least one occasion or over 100 beach users on at least two occasions across a review period)
  • evidence that bathing is not prohibited or inadvisable for reasons of safety
  • provision of information about site facilities for example, signage, litter collection, site access, car parks, life guards, changing facilities
  • confirmation from an appropriate body that it is willing to take on responsibility as the bathing water operator

Once the Department is satisfied that the criteria have been met, it shall seek to verify the initial usage data by conducting its own survey at the candidate site during the course of the next bathing season. Should this be verified, and the other criteria continue to be met, the Department would then undertake a public consultation with a recommendation that the candidate site be formally identified as a bathing water.   

Any representations, comments or queries in respect of the nomination and identification process should be directed to Marine.InfoRequests@daera-ni.gov.uk.

Bathing Water Profiles

The Bathing Water Directive requires a Profile to be prepared for each bathing water. These documents are designed to help the public make an informed choice before bathing. Each Profile gives detailed information on the physical characteristic of each bathing water while assessing the pollution risk to each site.

An interactive NI Beach Water Quality Map summarising the bathing water quality can be viewed online. 

Assessment and interpretation of water quality data

The Bathing Water Directive sets quality standards for a number of issues. The most important of these are the standards relating to the coliform and streptococcal groups of bacteria. In general, these can be taken as an indication of the amount of sewage or the other faecal contaminants present.

In addition to monitoring the bathing waters, DAERA Marine and Fisheries Division monitors any rivers, which run into the sea at beaches. Pollution problems at beaches often arise from within river catchments.

Standards for monitoring programmes

The EC Bathing Water Directive and The Quality of Bathing Water (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2013 contain information on assessing bathing water quality

Microbiological bathing water quality data

Each year DAERA Marine and Fisheries Division assesses the results of Northern Ireland's Bathing Water monitoring against the microbiological requirements of the Bathing Water Directive.

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