'Catastrophe' as plastic fibres from building works on Dun Laoghaire pier pollute beach
It was to be the jewel in the crown of the redeveloped seafront with €10m being spent rejuvenating the iconic Dun Laoghaire Baths.
But now local people fear the building works have caused an environmental "catastrophe" which may be irreparable.
Early morning walkers on Sandycove Beach initially thought the beauty spot was covered in frost, but on closer inspection the dusting of ice turned out to be something much more sinister.
It seems like millions of 4cm-long slivers of sharp needle-like plastic lay partially buried in the sand and snagged on the rocks around the popular Forty Foot bathing area last Friday morning.
The rigid plastic fibres, estimated to weigh 100kg in total, escaped from underwater foundations for a new pier at the landmark Dun Laoghaire Baths site, causing an unprecedented level of plastic pollution.
The plastic was mixed with 70 cubic metres of concrete, at a concentration of 50kg of fibres per cubic metre of concrete, and poured into the seabed last Tuesday by contractors working on the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council-funded project.
Martin Maher, chief executive of builders SIAC, said: "We notified the council and sent divers down to inspect it as soon as we became aware, and it looks like the top layer has come away. Our best guess would be that it is around 50-100 kg of the fibres - they bond with the concrete and give it strength and would be commonly used in sea defences. We poured it at low tide but for some reason, the fibres came away from the concrete. It hasn't happened previously. We are investigating if some change in tide disturbed it."
Dozens of local families rallied to do what they could last Friday morning, picking up the plastic needles for hours before SIAC workmen arrived to help in the afternoon.
Sandycove resident Harriet Donnelly, who regularly leads beach clean-ups, said: "It is a catastrophe. This stuff has probably already been eaten by seal pups, birds and fish and could puncture their insides.
"It is a danger too to toddlers playing on the beach, or dogs who might cut their mouths picking up a ball.
"How can it be in any way sensible to use this product underwater?"
Grainne Grehan, also from Sandycove, was among the first to spot the plastic. She said: "We filled four shopping bags with the stuff to start with, but it felt like we weren't even scratching the surface. We put a shout out and people came to help, but you pick up handfuls and then run your hands through the sand and there's more underneath.
"It's shocking to think somebody signed off on the use of this type of material in a marine environment."
DLRCC Cathaoirleach Ossian Smyth, a Green Party councillor, promised council workers would help with the clean up. He said: "This is extremely serious and whoever caused it, is responsible for cleaning it up."
Mr Maher of SIAC said the company regrets the incident and would be sending more than 50 people to work in the area today. He said a marine specialist would be sent today with a boat with at least three divers to inspect the wider harbour.
An environmental inspection from the air would start this morning to carry out an overview of the shoreline and beyond, he said.