Malta is swimming in the clear, says EU Environment Agency report

Water quality at Malta's beaches remains amongst the highest in Europe as the EU's Bathing Water Directive turns 40

Comino's Blue Lagoon - one of the gems of the Maltese islands
Comino's Blue Lagoon - one of the gems of the Maltese islands

Malta enjoys the third cleanest bathing water in the EU, according to a recently published report by the European Environment Agency.

97.7% of the 87 Maltese bathing sites were graded as “excellent” – after Cyprus' 99.1% and Luxembourg's perfect score all 11 bathing areas in the landlocked Grand Duchy- in the report which graded swimming spots in all EU member states, as well as Albania and Switzerland during 2015. The remaining 2.3% were of “good” quality.

This year marks a significant moment in Europe's attempts to tackle water pollution and provide clean bathing water for its citizens. The Bathing Water Directive — which sets quality standards and provides monitoring guidelines — was first issued 40 years ago, in 1976, and revised in 2006. The progress made over these 40 years proves the value of continuous water quality monitoring and assessment, as well as demonstrating the importance of investing in wastewater infrastructure, among others, to reduce pollution across Europe.

The bathing water monitoring programme is carried out by the Health Inspectorate Services within the Environmental Health Directorate (EHD), who publish weekly reports containing the results of tests on samples collected from official bathing sites around the Maltese Islands during the official bathing season, which begins in the third week of May and ends in the third week of October.

Pollution gets into the water from many sources and takes many forms, but one of the most prevalent is faecal contamination from sewage and animals, in particular the waste water draining from farms and farmland. Faecal contamination is a cause of concern for public health — raw sewage and animal waste are teeming with bacteria and viruses and swimming at contaminated beaches or lakes can result in illness.

Countries in which to think twice before taking a dip were, surprisingly, also Mediterranean. The bottom three countries for water cleanliness were Italy, with 95 sub par bathing sites, or 1.7 % of its total, France 95 sites or 2.8% and Spain 58 sites or 2.6 % are the countries with the highest number of poor quality bathing sites. During 2015 there were a total of 383 sites with poor quality bathing water in Europe.

In some EU Member States, more than 3 % of the bathing water sites had poor quality: 4.9 % or 31 bathing water sites in the United Kingdom, 4.4 % or six sites in Ireland, 3.4 % or 24 sites in the Netherlands and 3.2 % or three sites in Bulgaria.

Member States are obliged to establish bathing water profiles, giving a description of the geographical, hydrological and physical characteristics of the bathing water, along with general descriptions of the bathing water site, monitoring results, potential causes of pollution and the management measures implemented and make them available to the public. These profiles are most often made available online, but can also be placed on more traditional media such as billboards.

The full report can be downloaded from