Estonian bathing waters among the poorest in Europe

Pärnu Beach.
Pärnu Beach. Source: Helen Wright/ERR

While the general state of European bathing waters is excellent, Estonia does not rank highly, a recent overview by the European Environmental Agency and the European Commission reveals.

The agency measures bathing water quality using the relative importance of very clean water in all beaches. Around 85 percent of European beaches sport very clean water, a new report based on 2019 data from 22,295 beaches showcases.

Ninety-five percent of beaches are deemed sufficiently clean, while the water quality of just 1.3 percent of beaches was found to be poor. Over the last 40 years, the quality of bathing water has improved notably in Europe.

Sea water tends to be cleaner than that of landlocked bodies of water.

Sporting the cleanest bathing waters is Cyprus where 99.1 percent of beaches boast excellent water quality. Over 95 percent of beaches have excellent water quality in Austria, Malta, Greece and Croatia.

Three beaches score poor

Estonia might have excellent air quality, while the same cannot be said about its beaches. With just 63 percent of beaches offering excellent water purity, Estonia is lagging behind most European countries. In other words, over a third of our beaches do not meet the highest quality standards.

The report includes data from 54 Estonian beaches, 27 of which are located on the coast and 27 inland.

In addition to 63 percent (34 beaches) offering excellent water quality, 18.5 percent (10 beaches) have good water quality and 11,1 percent (6 beaches) sufficient water quality, with water purity deemed poor in 5.6 percent (3 beaches) – the Old Pärnu and Raeküla beaches in Pärnu and the Stroomi Beach in Tallinn.

The water quality at Stroomi has been fluctuating between poor and sufficient for years and has only been deemed good once in 2016.

The quality of the water at Raeküla Beach in Pärnu has been steadily declining for years. Still good in 2013-2014, its quality was sufficient until 2017 when it was deemed poor.

At the same time, the neighboring Pärnu Central Beach has sported excellent water quality for the past four years. The Pärnu Mai Beach was given a score of sufficient in 2019.

Water purity was merely sufficient also at the Vasikaholm Beach in Haapsalu, Kabli Beach, Anne Kanal Beach in Tartu, Põlva Reservoir and Maardu Lake, the latter having sported excellent water quality just a few year earlier.

Poland Europe's black sheep

Behind Estonia were Slovakia (62.5 percent of beaches with excellent water quality) and Albania (58.8 percent), with Poland in last place, with just 21.6 percent of beaches sporting very pure waters.

Poland's dramatically poor result has been explained through the fact only 187 of the country's 606 beaches were tested as most have only been registered recently and authorities have not managed to collect enough water samples.

Only 1.3 percent of European beaches have poor water quality. The situation has improved over the year, while improvement is still slow. Water quality was deemed poor in 2 percent of beaches in 2013.

The purity of bathing water is measured through the concentration of two microbiological parameters (E. coli and intestinal enterococci). The three Estonian beaches that were rated poor for water quality had more than the maximum allowed concentration of these bacteria.

Water quality is impacted by agricultural runoff. The risk is further heightened by flooding that causes sewage systems to overflow and the runoff to end up in rivers and the sea.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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