HARMFUL bacteria discovered off the Sunderland coast has forced bosses from the Environment Agency to strip Roker Beach of its coveted Blue Flag status.
The move comes as a blow to council bosses who just weeks ago were celebrating receiving the prestigious award.
Keep Britain Tidy, which runs the scheme, said figures from the EA showed three breaches of the maximum level of the bacteria Intestinal Enterococci, often found in human waste.
This left it with no choice but to revoke the Blue Flag until further notice.
Having only received the award in May, red-faced officials now have to work to regain the status.
The blow to Sunderland seafront’s tourism trade came after concerns were raised over the levels of sewage contaminating the water.
The 300-metre stretch of coastline was one of only two beaches in the country to lose the flag.
The news comes as a further blow to Sunderland, with the beach having also been left off the influential Good Beach Guide, published by the Marine Conservation Society, for similar reasons.
Test results from samples taken by the EA showed the water at Roker was contaminated by unacceptable levels of the harmful bacteria on May 11, June 8 and June 27, as well as showing excessive levels of the E-coli bacteria.
The high levels of waste come at peak season as hundreds of summer visitors flock to the coast every weekend.
Environmental campaigner Bob Latimer, owner of Latimer’s Sea Food Deli in Whitburn, believes the decision represents good news and bad news for the area.
“It’s terrible for them to lose the Blue Flag,” he said. “But they should never have had it in the first place.
“It’s terrible in a way because I depend on tourism, I want people to come here.
“But it’s a bad thing when you see a bus load of kids going down onto the beach, knowing what they’ve found on it.”
The businessman added: “On the one hand you don’t want to highlight the problem, but if we don’t then nothing will change.
“We want people to come for the right reasons.”
In the application for the Blue Flag accreditation submitted by Sunderland City Council, Keep Britain Tidy was assured that any potential contamination would only “affect bathing water quality on a short term basis”.
The council also cited school group visits and the Eco-Ranger scheme, where children learn about environmental concerns at the beach, as examples of the beach’s positive impact on the community.
Visitors to the beach this weekend were surprised by the news.
Jennifer Martin, 29, a mum of one from Penshaw, said: “It’s a lovely beach but it does make you think when you hear about this kind of thing. I would let my daughter go paddling but you do worry about her picking things up that have been washed onto the beach.”
Danielle Morris, 38, who was visiting Roker from Chester-le-Street, added: “I think there should be warning signs telling you about this type of thing.”
Councillor John Kelly, cabinet member for public health, wellness and culture, told the Echo: “We are obviously disappointed that Roker has temporarily lost Blue Flag status, but are determined to work hard to regain it as soon as is practically possible.
“We still retain Quality Coast accreditation at both Roker and Seaburn however, and the bathing water quality of all our beaches remains fine to swim or paddle in.”