Ensuring Healthy Beaches on World Oceans Day

Jason Pratt/Flickr


Guest post by Katie Ferguson, Communications Manager at the Surfrider Foundation. During the last 30 years, the Surfrider Foundation has been dedicated to protecting our oceans, waves and beaches, so that we can enjoy them today, tomorrow and for years to come.


Nobody wants to get sick from swimming or surfing at the beach, but when our waters are polluted, people can get skin rashes, eye infections, nausea, and more.

In developed coastal watersheds, rain typically flows off city pavement, residential yards, and farms. The resulting runoff picks up contaminants as it flows downstream through the watershed and into the ocean, where it can present a health risk to people.

“Polluted runoff flows into the ocean on a regular basis and threatens the health of swimmers and surfers,” said Surfrider Foundation’s Environmental Director Dr. Chad Nelsen. “Water testing is critical to protect our health and to identify and solve water pollution issues.”

On June 4, Surfrider released the annual report for its Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) water testing program. The study, which covers the year 2013, reports that Surfrider Chapter participation in water quality monitoring and investigating water pollution problems continues to grow.  The majority of water samples that showed evidence of pollution were collected from freshwater sites and beaches impacted by stormwater runoff.

The Foundation is made up of a chapter network that includes fishermen, sailors, paddlers, divers, surfers and beachgoers—more than 250,000 people from around the world who spend a significant amount of time on the coast and in the ocean.


In 2013, 28 of those chapters conducted BWTF water-testing programs. The majority of tests were taken in states along the Pacific coast: California, Oregon and Washington. During 2013, however, three new labs were established on the east coast, in New York City and Montauk, New York and in Charleston, South Carolina. The chapters in Rhode Island, Puerto Rico and Kaua’i, Hawaii are also conducting water-testing programs.

Through the BWTF, Surfrider chapters are testing their beaches for bacteria that can cause people to get sick. Their results are then compared to national water quality standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect public health in recreational waters.  

In many cases, these tests fill in data gaps and compliment agency programs. Surfrider chapters often test beaches that are not covered by state beach monitoring programs. Most chapter water testing programs also extend year-round, during the “off” season, when lifeguards leave the beaches and health officials stop collecting water samples, despite surfers and others still using the beach.

Program-wide, 3,127 water samples were collected and analyzed during the 2013 calendar year.  Most water samples collected by Surfrider, or 73%, were relatively clean and measured very low bacteria levels.  Eleven percent indicated medium bacteria levels, and 16% indicated the presence of high bacterial levels considered unsafe for swimming, surfing, or other recreational exposure.  

BWTF Lab testing 2

Of the water samples that failed to meet bacteria health standards, the majority were taken from freshwater sources such as rivers, creeks and marshes that are impacted by storm water runoff or at beaches near these freshwater outlets.  This is consistent with national trends, as stormwater runoff is the number one cause of beach closures and swimming advisories in the United States. 

Armed with their BWTF data, Surfrider chapters are raising public awareness of local water quality issues and bringing together stakeholders to investigate and solve water quality problems caused by urban runoff and other sources of pollution.

Surfrider chapters across the country are also implementing other Surfrider clean water programs, such as Ocean Friendly Gardens, to demonstrate how every coastal resident can take action to protect clean water and clean beaches in their communities.

As long as our oceans continues to face threats from urban runoff and other sources of pollution, Surfrider will continue to test the waters so that we can identify sources of pollution and implement solutions to ensure everyone can enjoy clean ocean water.  

Those of us who love the ocean have a responsibility to help protect it. This World Oceans Day, learn more and get involved; visit Surfrider.org.



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