World's Dirtiest Beaches
When beaches are right, they’re everything. Who can resist lounging in the warm summer sun before enjoying a refreshing dip in the cool, salty sea?
But for every stunning and destination-worthy beach out there, there’s a terrible stretch of shoreline lurking in the shadows. And when a beach goes bad, it’s a really awful sight.
There are numerous reasons a beach might be considered the worst of the worst, but pollution is No. 1 by far. With many urban centers located near water, strong conservation efforts are a must. Sadly many cities lack robust controls around sewage discharge, especially those in poorer or developing nations. But even wealthy U.S. and other first-world countries have their share of water woes.
Besides pollution, beaches can also be plagued by crime, dangerous wildlife, overcrowding, general drabness — or in particularly dire cases, some combination of all of the above.
Which beaches fit the criteria for being, well, the most dismal on earth? Read on. And next time you have a hankering for a beach day, don’t make plans to visit these destinations.
Freedom Island - Manila, Philippines
It’s hard to fathom just how much garbage lines the shores of Manila Bay. To give you an idea: Between January and May of 2019, 400 truckloads — or more than 100,000 cubic feet — of trash was cleared away from the infamously befouled area.
That clean-up was part of a sorely needed rehabilitation effort that began at the beginning of the year. But while commendable, such efforts have at times seemed futile; clear away the garbage, and more quickly returns. Ambitious, longer-term plans to install sewer treatment plants have promise — but for now, the garbage festers.
One of the worst destinations along the bay is Freedom Island, where cheap, disposable plastic produced by companies like Unilever and Nestlé routinely washes ashore. A couple years ago, environmentalists collected 54,260 pieces of plastic on the beach, a truly staggering amount.
The situation is sad not only for tourists, who should avoid visiting this island, but local wildlife. Freedom Island is an important site for migratory animals, to the extent that it was listed as a “critical habitat” in 2017. Can you imagine migrating to a veritable trash heap?
Guanabara Bay - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The 2016 Summer Olympics exposed a dirty secret in Rio: the fetid waters of Guanabara Bay.
The year before the games began, an AP report warned of the bay’s waters being “so contaminated with human feces that [athletes] risk becoming violently ill and unable to compete in the games.” Competitors were told to avoid splashing water on each other and to use hand sanitizer after competing or practicing. Some even took to bleaching their oars and paddles.
Still, at least one athlete, Belgian sailor Evi Van Acker, fell victim to the filth. “Evi caught a bacteria in early July that causes dysentery,” her coach said at the time. “The likelihood that she caught it here [in Rio] during contact with the water is very big.”
The problem with Guanabara Bay is a problem that afflicts all urban bodies of water: massive pollution from humans. In this case, more than 16 million people live around the bay, and many homes lack proper sanitation. This means raw sewage is pumped into the water daily, which makes the water highly contaminated.
Unless you want to end up like Evi, it’s probably best you skip a visit to this noxious bay.
Fujiazhuang Beach - Dalian, China
When we think of a day at the beach, the last thing we envision is sharing precious sand and water space with 50,000 others. But that’s exactly what happens at Fujiazhuang, considered to be the world’s most crowded beach.
Apparently the beach is so full of humans that public service announcements warn against what seems quite obvious: “If you are suffering from eye disease, or a skin ailment, or diarrhea, or other ailments, please don’t swim and consult your doctor. Please do not spit, litter or smoke.”
We’re pretty sure at least a handful of those 50,000 beachgoers aren’t heeding the directive...
Darwin - Northern Territory, Australia
Australia has some stunningly beautiful and famous beaches — and others that are too dangerous for swimming. Those around Darwin fall into the latter category.
While they are indeed picturesque, these far-north beaches contain seriously deadly wildlife such as jellyfish that can kill with one sting, crocodiles and, just for good measure, sharks.
There are actually many areas of the country where wildlife makes it too dangerous to swim, but those beaches have special nets off the shore to allow for human recreation in the waters, which is not the case in Darwin.
Amazingly, though, none of this has stopped people from heading to the area's beaches; when a crocodile was seen at a Darwin beach in May 2019, a visitor brushed it off, saying, “No one was really concerned at all, it was only little, just floating around.” There were also reports of beach-goers immediately heading back into the water after the crocodile left.
You’d be wise to exhibit a bit more caution when visiting this stretch of stunning but dangerous beach. Come for the beauty on land...and stay on land.
Kamilo Beach - Naalehu, Hawaii
Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places in the U.S., but it’s also home to one of the dirtiest places on Earth: Kamilo Beach.
There’s so much garbage on these shores that the beach has been dubbed “Plastic Beach.” How much plastic are we talking? Volunteers once picked up 15,000 piece of trash here in a single day.
Lest you think Hawaiians are an environmentalist’s nightmare, the plastic actually comes from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an accumulation of trash from Asia, North America and South America. This monstrous homage to people’s poor recycling habits used to be the stuff of legend, but recent research efforts have uncovered the truth.
It's estimated that the Garbage Patch contains 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, and covers an area of the Pacific that’s twice the size of Texas between Hawaii and California.
Kamilo Beach just happens to be in the perfect spot for capturing a wayward soda bottle or two...or 10,000.
Haina Beaches - San Cristóbal Province, Dominican Republic
This city and its beaches are so polluted that the locals call this the “Dominican Chernobyl.” Garbage is a major problem on beaches around the island nation, but in Haina the pollution mostly comes from an old battery factory where lead waste was not disposed of properly. The lead concentration is so high that it’s found at unsafe levels in the water, air and soil of Haina.
Contamination rates in adults have been found to be five times higher than normal; in children, it’s 10 times higher. This prompted the United Nations to declare that Haina has the highest lead-contamination level in the world, with the entire 84,000-plus population exhibiting signs of poisoning.
Cole Park - Corpus Christi, Texas
Texas’ motto is famously “Go big or go home.” Apparently, this also applies to the dirtiness of its beaches.
A just-released report on beach pollution from the Environment America Research & Policy Center revealed that of Texas’ 167 beach sites, a whopping 141 were potentially unsafe for at least one day — one of the most dismal ratios in the country.
Worst of the worst was the beach at Cole Park in Corpus Christi, which was potentially unsafe 52 days of the 64 it was tested...more than any other beach analyzed in the report.
In a story about the woes of Cole Park, “Dallas Morning News” put a fine point on why this news is troubling, citing the report’s finding that “Coming in contact with contaminated water can cause gastrointestinal illnesses, respiratory disease, ear and eye infections, and rashes.”
Yeah, we’ll pass.
Pattaya - Thailand
Thailand is full of wondrous and exotic beaches. Just don't go to Pattaya if that's what you're looking for.
In fact, this is probably the last resort area you want to find yourself in when visiting Thailand — unless of course you don’t mind a seedy underbelly.
“The Sun” has called this beach town the “‘Costa del Crime’ of south-east Asia,” a nod to the nickname for Spain’s Costa del Sol, which has a similar reputation for welcoming convicted British felons on the run. On a single day of raids, police made 180 arrests and seized dozens of weapons; last year, a police initiative to combat issues was given the alarming name “Operation rooting out crime for a livable city.”
Meanwhile, at the city's beach, sewage — pumped into the water — and garbage churn in the surf.
Pattaya Beach isn’t loathed by all; it’s somehow managed to earn three stars on TripAdvisor. But hundreds of reviews dismissing it as “poor” or “terrible” provide a pretty convincing case for avoiding its shores.
Bognor Regis - West Sussex, England
The Brits have spoken and their least-favorite seaside resort — factoring in not just beach quality, but bang for the buck, attractions, food and drink, and more — is Bognor Regis, which has nothing particularly worthy of anyone’s time.
It’s not overly crowded and it’s not overly dirty, it’s just…boring. The hotels and restaurants also tend to be pricey for what you’re getting, and the area contains no breathtaking views of anything.
Bognor has one thing and one thing only going for it: It’s the sunniest place in Great Britain. But like all of England, it’s still cloudy and cool in the summer, which is the opposite of beach weather.
Chowpatty Beach - Mumbai, India
Mumbai’s beaches in general tend not to be the cleanest. The seawater has way too much faecal coliform — bacteria from human and animal excrement — to be swimmable (levels are 60 percent higher than accepted standards). This is due to several factors, including the discharge of raw sewage from pipes that are not connected to the city’s infrastructure.
But Chowpatty Beach is even worse than others in the city, because its dirtiness doesn’t end in the water: The sand here is turning black from oil exposure. Oh, and trash is an issue too.
Pradip Patade, who’s been documenting aquatic life on the beaches of South Mumbai, told the publication “DNA India,” “The oil is now mixed with the trash that's already on the beach and has begun raising a stink.”
That doesn’t exactly scream “come on and lay down for a nice afternoon of surf and sand.”
Juhu Beach - Mumbai, India
The beaches of Mumbai could fill a chunk of this list, and Juhu is arguably the worst of the bunch (Versova isn’t far behind). The problem at Juhu is that no matter how many times the authorities clear the massive amount of garbage that washes onto the shore, it just comes back, because so much waste is tossed into the ocean. It looks awful and smells worse.
The good news is that Mumbai has finally taken notice and last year banned plastic, which greatly contributes to the detritus covering its beaches.
San Clemente Pier - Orange County, California
This beach has the unfortunate distinction of being the dirtiest in California according to Heal the Bay, a nonprofit working to improve safety and cleanliness in the watersheds of Greater Los Angeles. On its 2019 Beach Report Card, the group gave the beach a stinging “F” grade.
What makes San Clemente so dirty? Mostly untreated dry-weather runoff from a nearby storm drain and excrement from the birds that rest under the pier. For its part, the city of San Clemente is studying the source of microbial bacteria, installing netting under the pier to detract birds and launching an ad-hoc committee to address the poor water quality.
Thanks to these dogged efforts, there may come a time when this beach is clean enough to enjoy in earnest. Until then, there are much better and cleaner beaches to head to instead — also in Orange County, Treasure Island Beach near Laguna is considered one of the best in California.
Cowell Beach - Santa Cruz, California
Cowell is also on the “Beach Bummer” list from Heal the Bay, with a miserable “F” grade — and 2019 marked its 10th-straight appearance.
Not only is this beach extremely dirty from dry-weather runoff that flows into the ocean from a storm drain located on the beach, but it’s next to the extremely popular Beach Boardwalk and Santa Cruz Wharf. On summer days, the sands here are covered with adults and children, many of whom frolic in the putrid waters.
As with San Clemente, there’s some hope for this beach, though. The city and county of Santa Cruz have been diligently working to improve water quality, with studies in the works to figure out the distribution of bacteria at the beach. They’re also working to ensure that the public knows the risks of swimming in dirty water.
Atlantic City Boardwalk - New Jersey
The good news? The beaches in Atlantic City aren’t particularly dirty.
The bad news? There are other things to worry about in this once-teeming entertainment district that's lost much of its luster in recent years.
Residents and visitors alike have a hard time with the ambience — or lack thereof — at this gambling-meets-beach destination, where empty storefronts and abandoned casinos abound. Property crime and open drug use, though actually on the decline for some time, top the list of enduring complaints.
There are some signs of life here, including new casino properties aimed at reviving the area. But for now, it's best to skip this said relic of a once-vibrant destination.
Tenean Beach - Dorchester, Massachusetts
Beaches located near major coastal cities are rarely clean and picturesque, and Tenean is no exception. According to the latest report from Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, this beach south of Boston has the lowest six-year average ranking of any Boston Harbor beach analyzed by the conservancy organization.
With an 80 percent water-quality-safety ranking, the beach contains bacteria levels that are higher than the state’s standards for safe swimming one out of every five days. The Boston Water and Sewer Commission is conducting ongoing work to identify and address what exactly causes the pollution at Tenean Beach.
In the meantime, you should head to other city beaches — like M Street Beach in South Boston, which boasts a rating of 100 percent — instead.
Henderson Island - South Pacific Ocean
Small, remote and uninhabited, Henderson Island is nonetheless a dumping ground of sorts for humans. Trash from every continent except Antarctica ends up here, and thanks to a research project in 2015 we know just how much garbage blankets these shores.
Jennifer Lavers of the University of Tasmania knew there would be trash when she set out for Henderson, but was alarmed by just how much she found. During her and her team’s three-and-a-half months on the island, they counted 53,000 pieces of garbage and estimated that the 14-square-mile island is home to more than 37 million pieces of trash.
Kuta Beach - Bali, Indonesia
This popular beach is usually one of the more picturesque stretches of sand in a country known for such locales, but nowadays it’s mostly covered with plastics that have washed ashore. An Italian expat interviewed by the Mirror said he’d never seen the beach in such a state in his 17 years living in Bali.
To help fight pollution, Indonesia is banning plastic straws, plastic bags and styrofoam. But it remains the world’s second-largest producer of plastic waste after China.
Cambodian Beaches - Southeast Asia
The coastline of Cambodia is so dense with debris that it’s hard to see the water sometimes. Cambodia has poor drinking water, so residents are forced to buy the bottled stuff, causing a proliferation of plastic garbage. There’s also no centralized waste-collection service, so residents will simply toss their plastic waste into the water under their stilt-raised homes. And ships coming back to port after long trips at sea will do the same.
During cleanup for a recent World Oceans Day, trash-collecting volunteers each picked up more than 1,000 pieces of garbage — the highest total in the world.
Albanian Beaches - Adriatic Sea
Albania, in southeast Europe, boasts a stretch of coastline along the idyllic Adriatic Sea. Unfortunately, it’s also highly polluted.
The waste problem is so bad that its neighbor to the north, Croatia, receives a ton of Albanian trash due to currents and wind patterns.
In fact, Albania has the most polluted beaches in all of Europe. Only 35 percent of its water has been given an excellent quality rating, while samples at 18 of its 74 beaches indicate poor quality.
Moroccan Beaches - North Africa
Morocco banned plastic bags in 2016 and strictly enforces the law, but despite its best efforts, ocean waste remains a major problem.
As in many other countries, Morocco itself is not entirely to blame for its dirty beaches. Greenpeace estimates that a truckload of trash enters world oceans every minute of every day.
Nonetheless, in Morocco, beach cleanup volunteers say they see their fellow countrymen dispose of garbage in the waters with ease.
The one silver lining? Despite the heavy garbage content, the water quality is fairly good at Morocco beaches.
Lake Malawi - Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania
This massive lake touches three different countries, but for the people of Malawi it’s a vital source of food and water, irrigation, transport and recreation. And it’s filthy.
Pollution and overfishing are serious threats to the lake and its 1,000 species of fish. The country banned plastic bags, but they continue to pollute the lake.
Lagos Beaches - Nigeria
Half of the plastic waste found in Nigerian waters comes from one place: Lagos. The city is the most populated of any of the country’s coastal cities, which is one reason for the trash generation.
The trash problem is so bad that it has inspired at least one enterprising effort — last year, a young Nigerian woman began gathering volunteers for beach cleanups in Lagos. She says she and her crew of 20 kids fill 50 large sacks with waste every week.
Thanh Hoa - Vietnam
Decades of accumulating waste have turned this once sparkling-clean beach into a plastic disaster. One reason for the pollution is the heavy use of plastic bags by fisherman, who simply discard them into the water when they’re done.
Vietnam is the fourth-largest producer of plastic waste in the world. To help combat the problem, reusable bags made from rattan are given out in popular tourist areas and newspapers are used to wrap market produce.
Cilicia Beaches - Turkey
Turkey is one of the top sources of plastic pollution in the Mediterranean, and its southeast coastline of Cicilia has the highest concentration of plastic waste, with 31.3 kg of debris per kilometer. Both the Ceyhan and Seyhan rivers are highly contaminated and send plastic into the Mediterranean.
The World Wide Fund for Nature says the problem can only be reduced if countries get serious about banning plastics products like bags and improve their waste collection.
Lake Ash Dump - Siberia
Despite the glamorous Instagram photos and pristine-looking turquoise waters, this lake nicknamed the "Novosibirsk Maldives" is a fetid pool that might melt your face. The water gets its color from a chemical reaction that takes place when a nearby power plant dumps waste into the lake. Seriously, you could die real quick from exposure to the water.
One woman who filmed a video at the lake but did not even enter the water said she developed a rash almost immediately after leaving the site. Others report that the soles of sandals flake away after walking on the shoreline.
This is basically the real-life version of the acid bath from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”
Gulfport East Beach - Mississippi
Every single one of the 21 Mississippi coast beaches surveyed by Environment America were found to have unsafe levels of contamination, and Gulfport East Beach was the worst of the worst. Of the 66 days in which samples were taken, 44 were potentially unsafe for swimming.
Mississippi beaches are also threatened by unsafe algae blooms that form in freshwater and then are discharged into the Gulf of Mexico through a spillway.
Tanner Park - New York
New York’s nastiest beach is located on Long Island. As at Texas beaches, fecal contamination was to blame for Tanner Park scoring bad marks on 68 percent of the days it was tested.
The beach is located in Suffolk County, which has eight of the 10 most contaminated beaches in the state. Sewage overflows are mainly to blame.
South Shore Beach - Cook County, Illinois
At this point you’re probably wondering which beach is the most polluted in the U.S. That would be this beach located in Chicago along Lake Michigan. Samples showed it was unsafe for swimming on 93 of the 98 days it was tested, according to a report from Environment America.
Again, it was poop in the water that made it so disgusting.
Cook County was the only area of Illinois sampled for the study, and water quality was unsafe on 83 percent of the days tested overall.
Hanakapiai Beach - North Shore, Hawaii
This beach makes the list not for its plastic or poop problem but because, despite being beautiful, it’s quite treacherous. For one thing, it’s remote and cannot be accessed by vehicle, only a 2-mile hike. And the currents are so dangerous that it’s easy to get swept out into the ocean — the bodies of 15 drowning victims have never been recovered.
The entire toll is even more grim. A sign posted on the beach warns that since 2008, 83 people have drowned at Hanakapiai.
Skeleton Coast - Namibia
Like Hanakapiai, this beach isn't dirty — it's dangerous. Sometimes called "The Gates of Hell," it features lethal currents, 11 species of shark, and lions and hyenas roaming its shores.