Bug counts at the beaches

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

Beach monitoring reactivated last summer at seven Coromandel and two west coast beaches, testing to see whether faecal bacteria levels are OK for contact recreation, such as swimming and surfing has kicked off again.

Last summer’ reactivation of the Waikato Regional Council’s water quality monitoring programme was the first such testing since 2009.

The re-activation is part of a council drive to gain better information about what’s happening in coastal waters and to provide a community service. It resumes this summer.

Between November and March, beach users can go to to check what the latest results are for the targeted beaches.

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

The east coast beaches monitored are Whitianga, Hot Water Beach, Tairua, Pauanui, Whangamata and Whiritoa, and Sunset Beach and Ngarunui 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 region 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, 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 quality information.

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

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