July 23, 2008

Beach Water Tests Clean

By Anna Ferguson, The Brunswick News, Ga.

Jul. 23--By 8 a.m. Tuesday, Paulette Hayes was out, patrolling the beaches of St. Simons Island. Standing a few feet deep in the lapping waves, Hayes dropped a vial into the water and collected a splash.

Once a week, Hayes and a team from the Coastal Resources Division of the Department of Natural Resources can be found out in the waves, gathering water samples to test for possible bacteria contamination.

And the news the samplers have provided so far this June and July has been surprisingly, good.

"It's been pretty good all this year," said Hayes, a marine technician with the Coastal Resources Division.

The Coastal Resources Division tests St. Simons, Jekyll and Tybee island beaches weekly, looking for traces of enterococcus bacteria and for fecal coliform bacteria, which can cause serious diseases such as E. coli. If traces of the bacteria top a threshold of 104 parts per 100 milliliters of water (less than half a cup), a beach advisory warning is posted to inform visitors that the water may be contaminated.

"The threshold itself is a small amount," Cheney said. "But better safe than sorry."

Since the start of the summer tourist season in June, no beach advisories or closures due to bacteria in the water have been reported by the Coastal Resources Division, the department that collects the beach samples, and the Coastal Georgia Health District, the department that assigns beach closures, said Elizabeth Cheney, director of Beach Water Quality with the Department of Natural Resources.

Advisories posted on area beaches are recommendations, and do not mean that the beach is closed. The warning is merely a suggestion not to swim in the beach water, although the beach sand is safe for recreation, said Saroyi Morris, environmental health director of the health district.

"The beaches are not closed," Morris said. "However, we are recommending (when a warning is posted) that you not swim or wade in the water."

Contact with the possibly tainted water could lead to an increased risk of illness, such gastrointestinal illnesses, wound infection or respiratory infection, Morris said.

Earlier in the year, beach advisories were posted at several spots along the Golden Isles. On Jekyll Island, an advisory was posted at Clam Creek in March, as well as on Captain Willy's Crossover in April. On St. Simons Island, the Old Coast Guard Station beach was found to barely pass the bacteria threshold limit in April, followed by the advisory at Gould's Inlet in May, Cheney said. Those spots are now clean, she said.

The bacteria found in those portions of the water were all traced back to animal contamination, not human. That has been the case with all tested water in recent years, Cheney said.


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