Albania has Europe's dirtiest bathing waters

Albania has Europe's dirtiest bathing waters
Croatia is among the countries with the cleanest bathing waters in Europe, while Albania has the dirtiest, says the European Environment Agency. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews June 3, 2024

Croatia is among the countries with the cleanest bathing waters in Europe, while Albania has the dirtiest, according to a report compiled by the European Environment Agency (EEA) in cooperation with the European Commission. 

Both Croatia and Albania rely heavily on tourism as an important component of GDP. They have reported a strong increase in tourist arrivals since the pandemic, and are seeking to further develop their tourism sectors. 

The assessment monitors bacteria that can cause serious illness in people. Overall, 96.7% of bathing waters in Croatia were of excellent quality in 2023, just below the 97.6% in Cyprus and 96.9% in Austria. 

Percentage of bathing waters ranked 'excellent' quality in the EU27, Albania and Switzerland. Source: European Environment Agency. 

Elsewhere in Southeast Europe, 94.8% of bathing waters in Bulgaria, which has a number of popular Black Sea resorts, were also found to be excellent. 

However, Slovenia (78.7%) and Romania (70.0%) fell below the EU average of 85.4% as did several Central European countries. 

In Albania, one of two non-EU countries included in the report, just 41.2% of bathing waters were deemed to be excellent. 

Overall, the report found that 96% of all officially identified bathing waters in the EU met the minimum quality standards, with only 1.5% rated as ‘poor’.

“It is encouraging to see once again that European citizens can reap the benefits of over 40 years of strong investments in improving the quality of our bathing waters to make them as clean as possible," said Leena Ylä-Mononen, EEA executive director. 

"Continued regular monitoring by the member states of our coastal waters, rivers, lakes, and other freshwater will be crucial for our health and wellbeing and for the environment as climate change is leading to more extreme weather like heavy rains which can negatively impact water quality."

"Swimming in bathing waters with poor quality is not just a health risk; it also undermines the trust of our citizens," said Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans, and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius. 

The highest share of excellent bathing waters was found in Greece, Croatia, Cyprus, and Austria. In Belgium, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Malta, Austria, and Romania, all officially identified bathing waters met at least the minimum quality standard in 2023. Coastal bathing water quality generally surpassed that of inland waters, with 89% of coastal sites classified as excellent, compared to just under 79% for inland sites.

Since the adoption of the Bathing Water Directive in 2006, the share of ‘excellent’ sites has grown and stabilised at around 85%. The share of poor-quality sites has decreased over the past decade and has remained stable since 2015. However, health risks persist at certain sites.

The report is based on data from 22,081 bathing sites across Europe, including all EU Member States, Albania, and Switzerland, collected over the 2020-2023 bathing seasons. Alongside this year's Bathing Water Report, the EEA has released an updated interactive map showing the performance of each bathing site, updated country reports, and information on the directive's implementation in various countries.

Despite the high quality of Europe’s bathing waters from a bacteriological perspective, pollution of surface and groundwaters remains significant and may be exacerbated by climate change. Improving water resilience for people and the environment will be key in the coming years, the report said.

In the context of the European Green Deal and the Zero Pollution Action Plan, the Commission is evaluating whether the Bathing Water Directive remains effective in protecting public health and improving water quality, or if updates are necessary, including new parameters for better future assessments of bathing water quality.