Beach bug counts

Staff member Hannah Jones carrying out coastal water quality sampling at Raglan.

Waikato beach monitoring at seven east coast  and two west coast beaches to test faecal bacteria levels in relation to swimming and surfing is  about to kick off again.

Monitoring was reactivated last summer in an effort to confirm that levels were suitable for contact recreation.

Last summer’ reactivation of the Waikato Regional Council’s water quality monitoring programme was the first such testing since 2009, and part of a council drive to gain better information about what’s happening in coastal waters and to provide a community service.

Between November and March, beach users can visit: www.waikatoregion.govt.nz/coastalresults to check the latest results are for targeted beaches.

Results last summer were generally positive, with minor, temporary issues reported for one week only at Whitianga’s Buffalo Beach.

The east coast beaches monitored are Whitianga, Hot Water Beach, Tairua, Pauanui, Whangamata and Whiritoa, while Sunset Beach and Ngarunui are looked at on the west coast.

“The testing provides valuable guidance for swimmers and surfers,” says coastal water quality scientist Pete Wilson.

“The number of faecal bacteria present in the water indicates the likelihood of contracting a disease from many possible pathogens in the water such as bacteria or viruses.

“On our website, results from the monitoring programme are compared to national guidelines to determine the suitability for recreational use.”

Water quality at Waikato beaches is generally high, but caution should be taken following heavy rain, says Pete. Heavy rain flushes contaminants from urban and rural land into waterways, which then make their way to the coast. These contaminants may be present in the water for up to 48 hours after heavy or prolonged rainfall.

Last summer’s issue at Buffalo Beach appeared to have been a blip, and the sort of thing that can happen after heavy rain. “Bacteria levels there were back to normal by the time the next sample came in,” says Pete.

If any issues of concern are identified, the regional council works with district councils and the Waikato District Health Board to assess results that may have public health implications and to provide the public with the best information.

“Our monitoring programme, while it isn’t picking up major issues, will help provide assurances to the public going forward and help us track any trends or emerging issues,” says Pete.


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