Poor water quality leads to loss of coveted Blue Flags
Three of the country's best-known beaches have lost their coveted Blue Flag status due to poor water quality.
Brittas Bay North in Wicklow, Enniscrone in Sligo and Skerries in Fingal lost their flags due to issues with water quality, but five counties - Cork, Clare, Kerry, Mayo and Wexford - have more than in 2014.
Blue Flags are awarded across 60 countries and highlight beaches and bathing areas such as marinas which have excellent water quality and provide a range of facilities for visitors, such as toilets.
In all, some 81 beaches and five marinas have been awarded Blue Flag status - up six on last year. Another 58 received national Green Coast Awards, an increase of four. These reward high standards in areas which do not have the facilities required to achieve Blue Flag status.
To achieve the international standard, bathing areas are judged on 33 criteria relating to water quality, safety, facilities for visitors and beach management.
Environmental education and provision of information about the beach are also required.
A key ingredient to success is the involvement of Clean Coasts groups, with 440 across the country.
Last year, some 800 beach cleans were carried out, with half-a-million pieces of litter removed.
Environment Minister Alan Kelly said the Blue Flags represented "excellence" and were a "clear signal of quality and something to be cherished".
"A blue flag flying at a particular location means that it has achieved excellent water quality to standards set by European and national regulations, and a very high grade across a wide range of other criteria," he said.
The Blue Flag is administered in Ireland by An Taisce on behalf of the Foundation for Environmental Education, which has members in 60 countries. Beaches must achieve high quality water over a four-year period, and the programme is credited with driving improvements in water quality.
Annabel FitzGerald, Coastal Programmes Manager with An Taisce, added that the beaches and marinas which achieved the accolade had complied with "strict criteria", adding that local authorities, marina operators and local communities should be commended for their efforts in achieving Blue Flag and Green Coast award status.