Estuarine and Coastal Waters

Ireland is an island surrounded by seawater and has a coastline of approximately 7,500 km.  Its position in the Atlantic Ocean on the north-western edge of Europe has provided us with cleaner estuarine and coastal waters than that enjoyed by most of our European neighbours.  These waters are also very productive as nutrients are swept up from deeper Atlantic waters onto our continental shelf fuelling extensive fish stocks.

The waters are used for bathing, fishing, aquaculture, waste disposal and exploration for oil and gas and each of these activities, in turn, has the potential to adversely affect our estuarine and coastal waters.

Ireland has a large number of wonderful bathing areas around the coast boasting magnificent beaches and clean bathing waters. These bathing areas are monitored regularly in the summer months and the quality is high. In 2019, 95% of Ireland's 145 identified bathing waters complied with the EU mandatory values and achieved at least “sufficient” water quality status, 73% were classed as 'Excellent' and 16% as 'Good' quality. Five bathing areas were classified as 'Poor' which is an improvement from seven in 2017 (EPA, 2020). See EPA infographic on 2019 bathing waters here

The website has information on water quality for Ireland. The website provides the latest bathing water sampling results for each bathing area during the bathing season and their compliance status with EU bathing water quality standards. It also provides information about the compliance history of these bathing areas from 2003 onwards. In addition, the website provides a description of the beach, aerial and ordinary photography, details of blue flag status and lifeguard availability, as well as current weather and tidal information.

Water Quality & Nutrients

Most of the larger cities and towns in Ireland are located on the coast with wastewater from domestic and industrial activities discharging to nearby estuaries.

These discharges contain organic waste and nutrient loads and further nutrient enrichment is carried to the sea by the major rivers.  As a result, a number of estuaries and coastal areas display evidence of increased enrichment and these are mostly on the south-east and south coast as shown in red on the map.

Continuing investment in better wastewater treatment and careful use of agricultural fertiliser to limit runoff to nearby streams is required if this enrichment is to be reduced.

To view the current status of Ireland's coastal water quality please use the EPA map viewer and click Water > Water Quality > Coastal Water Quality 

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