Summer has finally arrived. It’s time to grab your suncream and swimming cozzie and head to the beach. Now is the perfect time and potentially the only time of year to take a dip in the fresh Irish sea. However, do the water quality standards make you think twice about bombing off the pier in Peel?
Poo is thicker than water
Water quality results of all 19 beaches, from 2010-2019, were published on the government site. The water is tested on its e.coli and intestinal enterococci levels to determine how clean the water actually is. Results found that six beaches were categorised as either poor or sufficient in 2019. Peel beach, Fenella and Laxey in particular were regarded as consistently poor over the last 10 years, which is quite alarming due to the number of regular swimmers.
What’s being done?
The scheme aims to sample the water quality of beaches on the island. Geoffrey Boot MHK said: ‘The higher standards bring us in line with neighbouring countries and protect public health while further enhancing the Island’s UNESCO Biosphere pledge. The designations empower bathers to make informed decisions and we are working with other local authorities to help them reach the standard.’
Testing will be conducted on a weekly basis but only on four of the beaches: Port St Mary, Port Erin, Ramsey South and Douglas. The local authorities from the other beaches have not opted in for this new weekly testing. Coincidentally, Peel has not signed up, which was consistently rated as poor for the last 10 years. Garff, which is the local authority for Laxey, did seek to sign up to the weekly testing, but was it wasn’t possible at this time due to the lack of sewage treatment in the area.
Sunset City or Dung-set City?
In Peel, raw sewage (untreated sewage) is currently pumped out below the beach and discharged just beyond the breakwater. Similarly, in Laxey the sewage is pumped out just off the North Laxey Harbour wall. These both have the worst water quality standards on the island and they don’t have a sewage treatment system in place. This treatment is a normal practice and is key to stopping harmful substances hurting not only human life but also sea life. In December, Manx Utilities Chairman Tim Baker MHK said: ‘We remain determined to bring forward solutions which will bring to an end the disposal of raw sewage into both Peel and Laxey bays.’
Policy and Reform Minister Ray Harmer, who is also MHK for Glenfaba and Peel, wants to see a change to the Peel sewage system and said: ‘I will continue to fight for the Peel Sewage Plant to be built, producing safe bathing for all the family.’ However, the planning application isn’t due to be submitted until February 2022. This means raw sewage will continue to be pumped out to Peel and Fenella beach for a while.
Jersey and Guernsey make a splash
Jersey’s government, which prides itself on having some of the cleanest beaches in Europe, stated out of 14 beaches, 13 were rated excellent and one was rated as good. Similarly, on Guernsey’s government website, most recent results have shown that all 13 beaches were rated excellent.
So what is the difference? In 2015, Guernsey completed a ten year sewage project after the Surfers Against Sewage fought for full sewage treatment to be introduced. The project included: upgrading the main pumping station, installing wastewater treatment and replacing the long and short sea outfall pipes. It is obvious this system works because all the beaches in Guernsey are rated of excellent water quality standard. Therefore why are the Manx beaches not up to the same standard?
Effects of dirty water
- Skin irritations
- Gastro-enteritis (intestinal infection)
- Stomach Ache
Not just poo?
Sewage is not the only pollutant corrupting the Irish sea. Sellafield is one of the most contaminated industrial sites in Europe. It is a large nuclear site on the coast of Cumbria where operators attempt to clean up dangerous waste, however radioactive waste is still discharged. It is unnervingly situated 35 miles away from the Isle of Man. Over the years, the Isle of Man government has called for the complete closure of Sellafield but they have had no luck. Sellafield continues to dispose of nuclear waste which contaminates our aquatic life. The government said: ‘Seafood fished in our waters can contain traces of radionuclides associated with effluent discharges from Sellafield to the Irish sea.’ If we’re eating this seafood does this mean that we can also contain traces of radionuclides from Sellafield?
Can radiation affect us?
Information from the National Cancer Institute has explained that high-energy radiation can damage DNA and cause cancer. On the Isle of Man, cancer is the leading cause of death. In a mortality report in 2017, it showed that 57% of all deaths on the island that year was due to cancer. There is currently no research to suggest there is a link between cancer rates and the radioactive waste from Sellafield.
The gem of the Irish Sea
Island life is best known for the wonderful ability to walk out your front door, smell the sea breeze, explore 100 miles worth of coastline at any moment and take a dip in the Irish Sea. Therefore, shouldn’t the water quality standards not only be at a good standard but an exceptional standard? Manx residents all year round swim, fish, paddleboard, kayak and even walk leisurely along the beach and deserve to enjoy the Irish Sea in all its glory.