13 of the dirtiest beaches in the world

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13 beaches around the world that are very dirty

A lot of trash on some of the world’s most beautiful beaches has turned them into dumps.

From Hawaii’s Kamilo Beach, which is called “Plastic Beach” because it is so full of trash made by humans, to Henderson Island in the South Pacific, which is very far away and has some of the dirtiest beaches on Earth, these once-beautiful beaches now look like garbage dumps.

We looked at reports from a number of different researchers, nonprofits, and groups to find the 13 dirtiest beaches in the world.
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Kamilo Beach, Hawaii, United States

Thousands of pounds of plastic waste wash up on Kamilo Beach each year. Justin Dolske/Wikimedia Commons
Thousands of pounds of plastic waste wash up on Kamilo Beach each year. Justin Dolske/Wikimedia Commons

“Plastic Beach,” which is another name for Kamilo Beach, is one of the dirtiest places on Earth. Kamilo is an area of Hawaii’s Big Island that is mostly made up of trashed plastic bottles. In fact, every year thousands of pounds of trash made by people, like hair brushes and water bottles, end up in the ocean. People from Japan and Russia bring some of their trash here.

This beach is very dirty because it is close to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of high pressure that collects trash from the ocean. Charles J. Moore, an oceanographer and boat captain, found it in 1997. Most of the trash is actually so small that you can’t see it with the human eye, despite what many people think.

Guanabara Bay Beaches, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Guanabara Bay is notoriously polluted with human sewage. Silvia Izquierdo/AP

The notoriously dirty Guanabara Bay in Rio got a lot of attention from the media before and during the 2016 Summer Olympics, when athletes in events like rowing and sailing had to swim in its filthy water.

The Associated Press did an investigation and found that the water in the bay “contained dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria from human sewage.” There was a 99% chance that athletes would get sick if they drank even three teaspoons of the dirty water.

El Gringo Beach, Bajos de Haina, Dominican Republic

Local contractors wear hazmat suits while cleaning up hazardous materials. jenspie3/Flickr
Local contractors wear hazmat suits while cleaning up hazardous materials. jenspie3/Flickr

The New York-based charity Pure Earth, which used to be called the Blacksmith Institute and works to find and clean up polluted sites around the world, once named Bajos de Haina as one of the world’s most polluted places.

The city outside of El Gringo Beach is known as “Dominican Chernobyl” because it is full of chemical and drug plants, as well as an oil factory. According to the news service Inter Press Service, these companies release a lot of harmful chemicals every year, such as formaldehyde, lead, ammonium, and sulfuric acid. Local factories are said to dump their trash into the water as well as putting harmful chemicals into the air.

Henderson Island, Pitcairn Island Group, British Overseas Territories

An estimated 37 million pieces of debris litter Henderson Island’s beaches. Google

Henderson Island is an uninhabited coral island in the South Pacific that is on a UNESCO World Heritage Site list. However, some of the world’s dirtiest beaches can be found there.

In the past few years, Jennifer Lavers, a professor at the University of Tasmania, has brought attention to the island. After seeing pictures of the trash on Google Street View, Lavers went to the island in 2015 to study its plastic waste. In three months, her team found more than 53,000 pieces of trash that was made by people. This is only a small part of the 37 million pieces of trash that are thought to be on Henderson’s beaches.

Juhu Beach, Mumbai, India

The water at Juhu Beach is contaminated by fecal coliform bacteria. Pinakpani/Wikimedia Commons
The water at Juhu Beach is contaminated by fecal coliform bacteria. Pinakpani/Wikimedia Commons

The water quality at Juhu Beach and other beaches on the coast of Mumbai has been in the news because it is getting worse.

The water there is dirty because it gets sewage from nearby slums and other trash that isn’t handled properly. It has fecal coliform bacteria in it, which can cause intestinal illness, typhoid fever, and hepatitis A.

Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia

Kuta Beach, a popular tourist destination, becomes covered in garbage during Bali's rainy season. Antara Foto Agency/Reuters
Kuta Beach, a popular tourist destination, becomes covered in garbage during Bali’s rainy season. Antara Foto Agency/Reuters

After China, Indonesia is the second-worst polluter of the world’s oceans, making up 10% of all marine pollution.

The fact that Kuta Beach, one of Bali’s most popular visitor spots, is often covered in trash shouldn’t come as a surprise, especially during the rainy season, when huge amounts of trash wash up on the shore.

Serendipity Beach, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Serendipity Beach, or Ochheuteal Beach, is covered in litter — but the trash signals a more serious issue. Lucky Vagabond/YouTube

Cambodia’s beaches are dirty, that much is clear. The International Coastal Cleanup brought a lot of trash to Cambodia’s shoreline in 2016, which led US News and World Report to name it the dirtiest coastline in the world. Cambodia had more trash than Albania, which had an average of 877 pieces of trash per mile of shore. Cambodia had an average of 1,072 pieces.

Serendipity Beach, which is also called Ochheuteal Beach, is no different. All of the reviews on TripAdvisor agree that this beach is dirty. “The beach itself could have been beautiful but is instead filthy with litter,” says a user.

But photographer Niamh Peren told The Guardian that the fast growth of trash is a sign of a bigger problem. People in Sihanouk have to drink bottled water to stay alive because they don’t have a way to filter the water. Water.org says that 4 million Cambodians do not have access to clean water.

Poche Beach, California, United States

Poche Beach in San Clemente is the most polluted beach in California according to nonprofit Heal the Bay. Google
Poche Beach in San Clemente is the most polluted beach in California according to nonprofit Heal the Bay. Google

A non-profit group called Heal the Bay looked at more than 450 beaches in California every year and found that Poche Beach in San Clemente had the most polluted ocean exit this year.

As a way to clean up the bay, Heal the Bay gives beaches grades from A to F, with F meaning very dirty. But it’s important to remember that Poche has never been on this list before.

Cheung Sha Beach, Lantau Island, Hong Kong

Crystallized palm oil litters Cheung Sha Beach after an oil spill in 2017. Bobby Yip/Reuters
Crystallized palm oil litters Cheung Sha Beach after an oil spill in 2017. Bobby Yip/Reuters

Hong Kong’s beaches have been a mess with trash and oil spills for the past few years. In 2016, a huge amount of trash from mainland China washed up on the shores. In August 2017, a palm oil spill left more than 90 tons of oil waste on the beaches, which hardened.

Cheung Sha Beach, which is Hong Kong’s longest, is said to be one of the dirtiest on TripAdvisor.

Someone on TripAdvisor says this about Lower Cheung Sha Beach: “I have never seen such a polluted beach in Hong Kong. You couldn’t even get into the water because of all the plastic.”

Someone else writes, “Huge amounts of plastic and medical waste had washed up on to the beach creating an apocalypse that we didn’t expect to see in cosmopolitan Hong Kong.”

Hann Bay, Dakar, Senegal

An aerial view of Hann Bay in Dakar, Senegal. eutrophication&hypoxia/Flickr

Hann Bay is now one of the dirtiest bodies of water in Senegal. It used to be famous for its miles of beautiful white sand beaches.

Hann is close to Dakar’s industrial port, so waste water from slaughterhouses, chemical and food companies, and other industries often flows into the bay.

Staithes Beach, North Yorkshire, England

Staithes Beach, North Yorkshire, England

The Telegraph called Staithes Beach one of the most dangerous beaches in the world, and it has never met the EU’s standards for cleaning.

It isn’t considered a bathing spot anymore as of 2016, so there aren’t as many rules about pollution levels. This beach, which is a famous place for surfing, can get dirty with sewage when it rains a lot.

Parlee Beach, New Brunswick, Canada

The popular New Brunswick vacation spot is one of the most polluted beaches in Canada. Michel Rathwell/Flickr

Pointe-du-Chêne, New Brunswick’s Parlee Beach is possibly polluted because of an old sewage system.

There were so many fecal germs in the water last summer that New Brunswick told people not to swim for eight days.

Foreshores Beach, Sydney, Australia

An aerial shot of Sydney’s Botany Bay. Kgbo/Wikimedia Commons

Many times, the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage has said that Foreshores Beach, which is between Sydney Airport and Port Botany, is “very poor” in its yearly “State of the Beaches” report.

The “abysmal” grade means that this estuary beach “is very likely to be polluted by feces and the water quality may not always be safe for swimming.”

In 2014, Foreshores was closed to the public for a short time because the water turned an odd orange color. The bright smoke was found to be safe by the New South Wales Environmental Protection Authority, even though it was high in iron.

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