Acclimatize is a project being carried out by researchers in Ireland (University College Dublin (UCD)) and Wales (Aberystwyth University). Our aim is to work out how bathing waters at the seaside become polluted in a way that can impact on public health, and how climate change may affect the quality of these waters in the future. The Acclimatize project is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Ireland Wales Programme 2014 – 2020. Acclimatize began in February 2017 and will finish in 2023.

Who are we working with?

In Ireland, we are working with Dublin City Council, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Fingal County Council, the Environmental Protection Agency, Irish Water, the Dublin Bay Biosphere Partnership and Waterways Ireland.

In Wales, we are working with Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water, Natural Resources Wales and representatives of Welsh Local Government (Cyngor Sir Ynys Môn/Isle of Anglesey County Council, Llanbadrig Community Council, Cyngor Sir Ceredigion County Council, Cyngor Sir Penfro/Pembrokeshire County Council) the Llywodraeth Cymru/Welsh Government and relevant non-governmental organisations (through the Water and Health Partnership for Wales (Bathing Waters Group)).

Why are we interested in bathing water quality?

Seawater close to the coast is important. Not only does it provide us with an amenity to enjoy for swimming and water sports, it can also supply foods such as fish, shellfish and edible seaweed. If this coastal seawater becomes polluted with faecal matter from human sewage or animal faeces (this might be from livestock that are close to a river that meets the sea, or from seagulls or dogs on the beach itself), the levels of harmful bacteria and viruses can rise in bathing water and pose a threat to human health. When certain threshold levels of faecal indicator bacteria are detected in the bathing water, beaches can be potentially closed, affecting tourism and local coastal economies.

The Acclimatize project is identifying the sources of pollution, predicting their impacts using real time modelling and measurements to determine how much each of these sources contributes to overall pollution levels. This helps us to better understand where and how the pollution happens in the first place and figure out how it can be reduced or stopped. The prediction component, pioneered by the WHO and built into EU and UK regulations, has also been proven to improve the compliance of designated bathing waters.

The Acclimatize project will also analyse the effects of climate change scenarios to determine the impact on microbial water quality and health risk. In the longer term, we expect that climate change will affect rainfall in and around the Irish Sea, altering run-off into the sea and potentially changing pollution risks. Initial modelling in this area suggests that water quality might improve in the summer bathing season.

Where are we carrying out the study?

Acclimatize is focusing on ‘at-risk’ designated bathing waters in two complementary environments: a large-scale urban environment and a rural agricultural environment. The large-scale urban environment is represented by ‘at-risk’ bathing waters in Dublin Bay (Sandymount, Merrion and Dollymount strands) and Donabate and Portrane beaches in North County Dublin. The rural agricultural environment in Wales is focusing on the main ‘at-risk’ bathing waters; Cemaes Bay in Anglesey, Traeth y Dolau/New quay North and Traeth Gwyn in Ceredigion and Nolton Haven in Pembrokeshire. The catchments and bathing waters in these contrasting environments are impacted by different factors and will likely experience different effects from climate change.

How are we carrying out the study?

We are using a combination of extensive fieldwork, laboratory analysis and environmental monitoring including hydrometric and meteorological parameters. We are gathering information in this way and combining it with existing knowledge about river courses, weather and climate predictions to build computer models.

In the short term, we can use these models to figure out the risk to the bathing waters. We are also building longer-term predictions up to the end of the century that take climate change into account. This information will help policy-makers and local authorities to protect the valuable amenities and resources provided by bathing waters.


The results of the Acclimatize project will be of significant benefit to public health, the local economy and the ecosystems of which these bathing waters are part. The project, thus, contributes to the preservation and enhancement of the marine and coastal environment for the enjoyment of future generations in the face of the increasing impacts of climate change.

Our response to the Covid-19 pandemic

Since March 2020 the Acclimatize project has adapted to the changes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. While the delivery of some work packages has been temporarily impacted, the project has adapted to deliver other work packages ahead of schedule. We have been able to continue some field and laboratory work at a reduced capacity to ensure physical distancing requirements are complied with and meetings have been moved online.

SARS-CoV-2 Surveillance of Sewage

In May 2020, the team in UCD was awarded funding by Science Foundation Ireland under their Covid-19 Rapid Response Funding Call to study SARS-CoV-2 in sewage and sewage impacted waterbodies.

A quick start to the project was necessary and with permission from the Ireland-Wales Programme, researchers on the Acclimatize project were able to participate in the delivery of this important project.

This work is strongly aligned with Acclimatize Work Package 4 (Microbial Source Tracking) and therefore the SARS-CoV-2 surveillance of sewage is providing benefit to the Acclimatize project as well as potentially serving as an early warning system for subsequent waves of infection. In addition, this work is providing information about the health risks for wastewater treatment plant employees and the public, who may be exposed to sewage-impacted bodies of water. Data from this work by the UCD team was shared with the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) in Ireland and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) in the UK, which further illustrates the value of Acclimatize cross-border working and the relevance of the work to both nations.


This project has been part funded by the ERDF though the Ireland Wales Programme 2014 -2020.