A RECORD number of beaches have reached the gold standard for water quality and in providing facilities for bathers.
Some 84 Blue Flags have been awarded to beaches and swimming areas across the State, an increase of eight over 2010. The flags are awarded to bathing spots which meet 32 strict criteria, including excellent water quality, lifeguards on duty, drinking water, toilets, litter bins and information about the environment.
Kerry and Mayo have 13 flags each, followed by Donegal with 12 and Cork with 11.
Environment Minister Phil Hogan said the flags recognised improvements in water quality and the work of community groups and councils which helped keep beaches clean.
"This increase is very welcome and is due to the combined efforts of the local authorities and coastal communities on the ground as well as those in the wider catchment who are playing their part in working to improve water quality," he said.
"An important aspect is the involvement of Coastcare Volunteer Groups. There are now over 170 Coastcare groups established throughout the island. They provide a strong indication of the dedication that individuals have to the improvement of their communities and surroundings".
The Blue Flag is administered by An Taisce on behalf of the Foundation for Environmental Education. An Taisce Director Patricia Oliver said 2011 was a record year for the number of flags awarded. However, two swimming areas lost their flags.
Dollymount Beach in Dublin did not comply with the stringent water quality requirements; while Mullaghmore in Sligo could not be awarded the flag as there were ongoing issues with livestock roaming on the main beach area which created an unsafe environment for beach users.
But Blue Flags were regained for Brittas Bay South in Wicklow; Traught (Kinvara) and Ceibh an Spidéal in Galway; and Ross (Kilalala) and Old Head in Mayo, all of which lost their flags last year.
Tramore in Waterford, Portrane in Fingal, Youghal Front Strand in Cork and Enniscrone in Sligo were all awarded the flag for this summer.
Another 58 beaches were given Green Coast awards, up from 46 last year. These are awarded to beaches with excellent water quality but which may not have the facilities needed to secure a Blue Flag.
Up to date information throughout the summer on water quality is available at www.bathingwater.ie.