EU Swim Project

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Media Releases

Belfast, 7th December 2017: A cross-border research project for developing a system for live bathing water monitoring is launched today at a prestigious event at Titanic Belfast, including presentations from project funders, partners and a stakeholder forum. This project has been funded by the EU’s INTERREG VA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body.

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Two schools are hosting weather stations at Scoil Chríost Rí, Enniscrone, Co Sligo and St Patrick’s Primary School near Waterfoot beach in Glenariff, Co Antrim. This has provided an exciting opportunity for both schools to collaborate on a project to share the data coming from their SWIM weather stations and to compare and interpret their results.

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The EU SWIM Project presented an update at the recent Beach and Marinas Awards 2019 at the Marine Court Hotel, Bangor.  The update included a preview of the EU SWIM app.

Download the media release.

July 2019 was an exciting time at the EU SWIM Project, as we launched our new, free app onto the market.

Click here, to read what the Belfast Telegraph had to say about it.

You can download the app via the Apple store by clicking here

Or via the Google play store here

In August, with help from local councils, the project installed 9 electronic beach signs.

Click here, to read what the Northern Ireland Environment Link had to say about it.

The 2019 UK Bathing Waters Conference was held in November, in Belfast, hosted by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

The conference gathered delegates from various organisations, including the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the World Health Organisation and Natural Resources Wales.

The EU SWIM Project were given the opportunity to present and discuss with delegates our latest project developments.

Click here, to see the presentation.

Click here, to view the conference poster.

Come in the water is lovely!

Go behind the scenes and meet the clean bathing water team who strive to bring you safer bathing waters . . .

Bathing water safety and quality is so important for public health and wellbeing. Public littering both at home – when unsuitable items are flushed down the toilet or put down the sink, along with littering along our coastlines, bring a huge legacy for water purity and wildlife habitats.

Added to these factors, uncertainty around weather events such as storms and flooding and climate change elements can temporarily disrupt the water quality making it unsuitable for bathing.

Luckily for all beach users out there, the €1.4m EU-funded SWIM (System for Bathing Water Quality Monitoring) Project provides specialized scientific monitoring giving near real-time information for beach users on nine designated cross–border beaches.

This behind the scenes task force combining the expertise of University College Dublin, Agri–Food & Biosciences Institute and Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful are working to develop a system tirelessly to ensure designated beaches are safe for use during the bathing season.

Dr Rosemarie Gannon, the EU SWIM Project manager, based at UCD said, “At a time of a lot of uncertainty surrounding bathing water quality, at certain beaches on the island of Ireland, and the current restrictions around Covid-19 which limit the collection of compliance samples, our pilot phase research system which predicts bathing water quality is progressing well.”

More information about the project is available at swimproject.eu or via Facebook and Twitter @EUSWIMProject. A downloadable app is also available from Apple and Google Play stores.

Stories from the Beach . . .

From Monday 7 September 2020, just a week before the bathing season officially closes for the year, we highlighted the many people who help keep our beaches and bathing water at a high standard not just during Covid-19 but on an ongoing basis. Entitled Stories from the beach, these short pieces also include a story about those who use the beach and reap the health and well being benefits.

Stories from the beach . . .

Chasing Rain in the Name of Research . . .

 

Megan Whitty, Research Assistant, EU SWIM, UCD.

My name is Megan and I have recently started as Research Assistant on the EU SWIM Project. SWIM is a venture that oversees the testing of bathing water, by way of collecting water samples from selected beaches in Ireland, to ensure water quality is kept to a high standard

I have just finished my MSc in Environmental Technology in UCD, where I also completed my undergraduate degree in Environmental Biology.

I was always interested in the field of environmental science from a young age and loved watching nature documentaries on RTE. During my undergraduate degree I had the opportunity to study a wide range of topics including microbiology, ecology, plant biology, chemistry and statistics. I found microbiology particularly interesting, so when I heard about the job with EU SWIM I was excited to take the next step in my career.

The area of microbiology, specifically water quality testing is of particular significance, as it has a practical application for human health and is therefore a rewarding career.

Bathing and spending time at beaches is a very popular activity in Ireland, especially given the new Government ‘Staycation’ initiatives. The predictive modelling carried out by the project ensures that bathers are aware if it is safe or not to swim. Looking after the safety of the general public is coupled with the identification of environmental factors, which may be contributing to poor water quality.

Although my remit has long outdoor hours, typically spending up to 12 hours  (7am to 7pm), beach sampling, processing the findings, organising fieldwork and recording data. Travelling around Ireland is an added bonus of my job, as due to its nature, I must take water samples from EU SWIM designated beaches such as: Enniscrone, Co.Sligo, Clogerhead, Co.Louth and Lady’s Bay, Co.Donegal.

Chasing rain when others seek cover must seem like an unusual activity but it is another prerequisite of my role. Rain tracking events are essential tasks as this type of sampling during and after rain events is important to test bathing water quality. This is done due to increased surface run-off containing nutrients, from macro factors such as farm waste (manure) and also potentially sewage, following heavy rain.

All sampling must be repeated every hour for 12 hours to classify fluctuations with the tidal cycle as well as a daily maximum value. Preventing illness in those using designated bathing areas is avoided or reduced by processing samples for E.coli and Intestinal Enterococci and by calculating MPN (most probable number)/100ml.

These finding are measured within the Water Framework Directive to gauge if water quality per sample is excellent, good, sufficient or poor. Data from fieldwork is sent to modellers and will be used for predictive modelling of bathing water quality.

Overall, my role aims to assist in the prediction of water quality, which may then be communicated with the general public through on-site information boards, the EU SWIM app and through social media and publicity such as literature and media releases.

Megan sampling bathing water.

Keeping Standards 

Image courtesy Megan Whitty, UCD.

Keeping our bathing waters up to standard is managed by DAERA in Northern Ireland and the EPA and local councils in the Republic of Ireland.  The Bathing Water Directive is the framework which is used to determine water quality at EU SWIM bathing waters.

Many macro factors can impact on water quality from surrounding land including farm effluent discharge, weather events such as heavy rain, dog fouling and litter which can be dropped, washed up or flow into the sea from domestic and commercial sources.

Without monitoring in place our bathing water could potentially fall below safe levels causing ill health for beach users.

The Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs’ (DAERA’s) vision of ‘sustainability at the heart of a living, working, active landscape valued by everyone’, encompasses regulatory responsibilities for air, land and water, it includes an advocacy role in promoting an understanding of and access to the marine environment.

The Bathing Water Directive 2006/7/EC sets quality standards for bathing water. All countries in the European Union have to ensure that their bathing waters meet these standards. Bathing water quality is monitored by DAERA Marine and Fisheries Division, with one of its responsibilities to ensure coastal waters are of high enough quality for the general public to bathe in.

DAERA work in partnership with Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful (KNIB), NI Water, community groups, local councils and other landowners like the National Trust, to manage our 26 bathing waters and beaches through the annual bathing waters monitoring programme and the Better Beaches Forum.

The bathing season normally runs from the 1 June until 15September annually, however due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, DAERA Marine & Fisheries Division are currently carrying out a reduced bathing water programme, which commenced in mid-June 2020. This is subject to continuous review and dependent on current Government COVID-19 advice.

How the quality of bathing water is tested, and information on the latest microbiological results for each of Northern Ireland’s beaches areupdated regularly on the DAERA website Bathing Water Results 2020.  Water quality posters are available on NI Direct Bathing Water Quality.

A DAERA spokesperson said, “We are pleased to be involved in the INTERREG VA SWIM project. This collaborative project will develop a modelling system to predict when bathing waters are likely to experience short-term pollution events. When operational, members of the public will be warned in advance of short-term pollution events, which should result in better public health protection measures.”

University College Dublin (UCD) leads the cross-border project with partners Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful. Coastal councils in Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland and DAERA provide further support.

Vigilant While Others Enjoy the Beach

As more people holiday at home due to Covid-19 holiday restrictions, the RNLI, which provides beach lifeguard cover in Northern Ireland, have reported an increase in rescues in particular on the north coast. Adding to a task already fraught with potential danger, the RNLI must factor in how to safely deal with those they rescue as on many occasions it involves close contact. Lifeguards must wear PPE – personal protective equipment as their work involves close human contact. This brings with it additional danger with the emergency service at this time

As holidaymakers flock to beaches with as many as five times the number enjoying beaches than in past years, RNLI volunteer Karl O’Neill is reported on BBC has saying, “Portrush east strand was particularly busy. On a beach like this in a year, we could have seven or eight incidents, because our lifeguards are so proactive. But with the sheer number of people here now, we could be going through three to five incidents a day.People can’t get away on holiday, so they’re coming here.”

RNLI volunteer Karl O’Neill – Image courtesy RNLI

Among the most often seen rescues are operations helping swimmers caught in rip tides or holidaymakers blown out to sea on inflatables. When additional help is needed, the lifeguards call RNLI’s Portrush lifeboat.

Coxswain and mechanic Dave Robinson has been quoted as stating that recently it has been the busiest they’ve probably ever been in the time frame.

Between callouts for missing children on beaches to accidents on rocks the organisation has definitely saved lives over the past few weeks and continues to be vigilant.

Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council Mayor Mark Fielding has advised beach users to come to a lifeguarded beach to start with and swim between the red and yellow flags.

“If you want any advice whatsoever, please approach a lifeguard, but do so at a social distance. They’ll give you all the advice you need. You’ll see signage on our beaches warning about rip currents. Tempting as it might be because it’s a quiet area away from people and it’s isolated, please don’t enter the water there. The warnings are there for a reason and we’ve had to pull a lot of people caught in rip currents out of the water.”

Picking up the Pieces

It’s so important not to litter. This short piece celebrates those who pick it up through survey work and volunteering . . .

Conor Bush is Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful’s Local Environmental Quality Officer. Conor’s job is an essential part of both monitoring through litter survey work and picking up what other’s drop on our beaches. Conor has a team of enthusiastic volunteers who selflessly engage in gathering both washed up and dropped debris, most of which is preventable.

Conor explains, “Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful carry out quartlery marine litter surveys across Northern Ireland. These surveys record the different types and amounts of litter that wash up on our beaches throughout the year.

Although this sounds like an easy task, this work requires the help of volunteers. During the surveys we see some very interesting things ranging from walking frames to mattresses and on one occasion a multitude of clothes. One beach in particular is notorious for its bottles and jars of mayonnaise!

Although interesting to find it is sad to see so much litter on our beaches, not only ruining the scenic view of the beach but also heavily impacting on our environment and local wildlife.

Often while completing surveys, you can even see birds coming down and eating or picking up litter to take back to their nests to feed their chicks! There is a positive however from doing the surveys safe in the knowledge that all of the data collected is being used my OSPAR to help change the legislation and protect our oceans from future litter.

OSPAR started in 1972 and consists 15 Governments & the EU, including Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and United Kingdom who cooperate to protect the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic. OSPAR is so named because of the original Oslo and Paris Conventions ‘OS’ for Oslo and ‘PAR’ for Paris. It was broadened to cover land-based sources of marine pollution and the offshore industry.

If you would like to know more about volunteering and helping to keep our beaches beautiful please contact 028 9073 6921.

Lifeline in Life’s Stormy Waters . . .

After experiencing health issues with a hip replacement and osteoarthritis, Menopausal Mermaids sea-swimming group founder, Nicole Morelli, 50, from Portstewart, Co. Antrim, started to factor in daily swimming at the north coast town. From what started as casual sea swimming with a friend soon became the Menopausal Mermaids Sea Swimming Group. Since November 2018, the group has grown with over 80 WhatsApp members and 200 Facebook members.

Nicole, mum of two daughters, Lucia, 8 and Giannina, 6 who works at the well-known Morelli’s To Go ice-cream parlour in Portstewart, describes sea swimming as the best anti-inflammatory out there, stating that “an invigorating dip makes you feel invincible and ready for the day, it should be on prescription.” Although their initial experience lasted for around two minutes, the buzz and fun brought them back the very next day. New members mostly join by word of mouth with people turning up at the beach. On average they receive four new requests every week.

As sea-swimming takes off due to the benefits and the fact that it’s free with no joining fee and no limits, Nicole nonetheless advises to never swim on your own as it’s much more fun and safer to have someone with you! As it’s unlikely you will have facilities nearby, getting changed as quickly as possible afterwards and bringing a hot drink with you to help heat up your core are tips from the top. With hooded towels a must and a bottle of warm water for to clean sand from your feet, you’ll be good to go.

Nicole also feels that sea swimming has given her confidence in her body that she never had before. “I feel strong and invincible when I leave the water – not to mention the amazing friendships I have made which I know will last a lifetime. Last June we had a swim and picnic get together at East Strand, Portrush. We brought our families and partners. We chatted and swam for hours and our kids all played together. It was a wonderful day, considering we were strangers only a few months before.”

Meeting regularly the mermaids describe themselves as more dippers than swimmers. Over recent months although distanced in the sea to keep within safe guidelines, it hasn’t hindered the enjoyment and shared experiences. Many members attest to the health benefits for both body and mind and not just during testing Covid times but also for those on their own journeys. There are many personal stories of dealing with illness, tackling mental health issues, overcoming grief and loss or just bonding through friendships. The group includes younger members to empty nesters, those suffering bereavement, depression, anxiety or other health issues. And it’s inclusive with two menopausal Mermen in the posse. At the end of the swim, what’s said in the sea stays in the sea . . .

Sea swimming should be safe at all times and never in isolation. The Mermaids initially met with both the RNLI and Coastguard to ensure they abide by crucial safety advice with key reference points on safety in numbers and the wearing of high visibility safety floats.

The social side, although less in recent times, brings gatherings both home and away and post swim coffee catch-ups are a regular post-dip treat. With a monthly golf group, cinema nights, dinners and lunches, sea-swimming certainly to offer so much more.

For more information on the Menopausal Mermaids check out their Facebook page or find out about groups near you or how to start your own on the Outdoor Swimming Society website.

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