About 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 Quality of Bathing Water Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2008.

Identified bathing waters are subject to two types of monitoring:

  1. Sampling for faecal indicator bacteria
  2. Visual assessment for possible pollution incidents, including presence of waste, proliferation of macroalgae (seaweed) and algal scums and blooms (including blue-green algae).

Blue-Green Algae

Latest News
Blue-green algal blooms have been recorded at a number of locations in rivers, lakes and coastlines this year. DAERA continue to respond to reports of blue-green algae within Northern Ireland waters and have put in place some emergency planning measures to deal with the situation. Impacts have primarily been seen in Lough Neagh and the Lower Bann, but other sites have also been impacted including north coast bathing waters and the Fermanagh lakes. The incidence of blue green algae is impacting fisheries (both commercial and pleasure) and recreational water users.

Monitoring, assessment and emergency pollution response activities are being carried out and an urgent review of existing policies has been commissioned. Meetings have been held with Department for Infrastructure, Public Health Agency, Food Standards Agency, Councils and AFBI to discuss current trends and to ascertain whether more can be done to address these.

The underpinning drivers of the increase in blue-green algal blooms include the excess nutrients from agricultural and waste-water systems within the Lough Neagh catchment, with the very warm June, followe by the wet July and August to date. This has been exacerbated by factors such as zebra mussels, which are upsetting the ecological balance in the Lough. 
                                                                                                                            Local councils or water operators are responsible for managing and assessing risks associated with blue-green algae. The public are reminded that blue-green algae can be harmful to humans and is highly toxic to animals. The public should therefore follow signage erected by local authorities. Members of the public can report suspected blue green algal blooms in several ways - via the Bloomin Algae App which can be downloaded at: https://www.ceh.ac.uk/our-science/projects/bloomin-algae(external link opens in a new window / tab) or e-mail emergency-pollution@daera-ni.gov.uk or phone 0800 80 70 60.

Identified and candidate Bathing Waters
Where there are concerns of risks to bathers’ health from a visual assessment of, for example, blue-green algae, further assessment is made by taking water samples to establish levels in relation to agreed health guidelines for safe bathing. In the case of blue-green algae, the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s guidelines are applied.

If levels of blue-green algae exceed the safe threshold from WHO, DAERA notifies the Bathing Water Operator to issue ‘advice against bathing’ notices. DAERA works closely with Bathing Water Operators to reduce and manage risks to bathers’ health from pollution incidents including blue-green algae. Depending on visual assessments of algal scum precautionary closures may be required until full sample results become available

Bathing water data

Details of bathing water quality. Annual classifications of Bathing Water Quality are classified as official statistics.

For further information on water quality please see Bathing water FAQ's

2023 Bathing Water Compliance

Bathing water 2023 Classification
Ballycastle Excellent
Ballygally Excellent
Ballyhornan Excellent
Brown’s Bay Excellent
Castlerock Excellent
Cloughey Excellent
Cranfield Excellent
Groomsport Excellent
Kilclief Excellent
Magilligan Benone Excellent
Magilligan Downhill Excellent 
Murlough (Co Down) Excellent
Portballintrae Salmon Rock Excellent
Portrush Curran (East Strand) Excellent
Portrush Mill (West Strand) Excellent
Portrush Whiterocks Excellent
Portstewart Excellent
Tyrella Excellent
Ballywalter Good
Carnlough Good
Crawfordsburn Good
Helen’s Bay Good
Millisle Good
Waterfoot Good
Newcastle Sufficient
Ballyholme Poor
Candidate Bathing Water 2023 Classification
Cushendall Excellent
Drain's Bay Good
Portmuck Good
Brompton Poor
Donaghadee Poor
Warrenpoint Poor
Rea's Wood (Inland) Poor

UK Bathing Water Conference

The UK Bathing Water Conference is held to discuss the challenges in preserving clean, safe and attractive beaches and bathing waters. It is managed and overseen by the UK Bathing Water Group which has representation from all devolved administrations and their associated environment agencies. The last conference was hosted by DAERA and was held in Belfast at ‘The Assembly Buildings’, Fisherwick Place on 19-21 November 2019. Most presentations from the conference are available at the links below.

UK bathing water conference presentations

How is bathing water quality tested?

The Quality of Bathing Water Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2008 sets quality standards for bathing water. 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 the Quality of Bathing Water Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2008

The regulations require regular testing of bathing waters. In Northern Ireland 26 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.

Blue-Green Algae Sample Results

Water samples were taken for testing by DAERA, as part of the Bathing Waters programme, during the blue-green algae events of recent months. The results of which can be found in a summary report, here.

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 Quality of Bathing Water Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2008 require 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.

Assessment and interpretation of water quality data

The Quality of Bathing Water Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2008 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 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 Quality of Bathing Water Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2008.

Better beaches report

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