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Beaches in the clear

Positive outlook: senior public health analyst Elaine Watkinson

The seawater at Bermuda’s top tourist beaches has been given a clean bill of health as the summer vacation season gets into full swing.

Environmental health officers have been regularly testing the quality of the bathing water at the nine most popular beaches for swimming since the start of April.

And their latest results — obtained this week — put all the beaches in the clear when it comes to the quality of the bathing water, with low levels of pollution.

Senior public health analyst Elaine Watkinson told The Royal Gazette it was “early days” in terms of collecting and analysing water samples as the testing only began on April 4, but she added: “From the results we have got, it still looks good. We are early on in the season but we can look at the last two years’ data and expect that sort of low trend to continue. There is nothing we know of that has changed.”

She said as the summer progressed, officials would gather enough data on levels of bacteria to produce a geometric mean — a measure of an overall average — for each beach. Graphs showing the quality of the water in the East End, West End and central area would then be shared with the public, as they have been for the previous two summers.

“The most important area for us to concentrate on is the major beaches,” she said. “We sample over a period of time over all the main months when people swim and we are looking at the data over a period of time. We go by the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) guidelines.

“The individual readings don’t mean as much as the readings over a period of time. So what we do is collect an average value using 30 days of sample results. Every time we do another test and get another result, we get another average value.”

The sampling sites are: Clearwater Beach South, Clearwater Beach North, Elbow Beach West, Elbow Beach Central, Elbow Beach East, Grape Bay, Horseshoe Bay East, Horseshoe Bay Central, Horseshoe Bay West, John Smith’s Bay, Shelly Bay, Snorkel Park, Tobacco Bay and Warwick Long Bay West.

The water taken from those beaches is tested for enterococci, a group of bacteria used as an indicator of pollution or faecal contaminants, in accordance with EPA methodology for recreational water quality for salt water.

The EPA’s maximum acceptable level of enterococcus per 100 millilitres of water for a single sample is 130 cfu. The latest test results show all 14 sampling sites well below that level, with half showing a level of less than 1 cfu. Even the beach with the highest level, Tobacco Bay, in St George’s, is still only at 15 cfu.

Since the testing began, Snorkel Park at Dockyard has exceeded the 130 cfu level on one occasion and environmental health officers are working with the West End Development Corporation, which owns the beach, to determine what caused the spike.

On April 4, the level of enterococcus at Snorkel Park was 71 cfu per 100ml. The EPA guidelines suggest retesting if the level is above 70 cfu so another sample was taken the following day and the results showed the level had dropped to 4 cfu. On April 11, the level of enterococcus at Snorkel Park was 151 cfu per 100ml — exceeding the EPA’s acceptable limit. The next day it was retested and the level had dropped to 61 cfu. The most recent sample taken this week showed a level of 1 cfu — in line with samples taken at Horseshoe, Elbow and Clearwater beaches.

Wedco general manager Andrew Dias said yesterday that the beach at Snorkel Park was not open on April 11 as there was no cruise ship at Dockyard.

“There is no obvious source [of the pollution],” he said. “Obviously, we jumped on it immediately — both Wedco and environmental health.

“It’s still an active investigation that we continue to monitor. We are not resting on our laurels. While we are pleased with the latest results, we are still obviously investigating. We are retesting a lot more frequently to try to pinpoint if it’s coming from the land in any shape or form. We are taking proactive measures.”

He pointed out that no sewage was pumped out from land to sea at Dockyard and the sewage treatment plant beneath Casemates was tertiary level — “the highest world standard that you can have for the treating of sewage”.

“None of the water goes into the sea,” Mr Dias said. “The water that comes out is basically potable water and is then reused for flushing and irrigation. That water is sampled daily and injected with chlorine.”

Mrs Watkinson said: “The area is being inspected to try to identify possible sources. When we get spikes of enterococci it could be down to a number of different factors or sources. It could be storm water run-off or even cleaning activities in the area or from animal contamination or from some sort of pipe leakage. It’s difficult to say for sure.”

Snorkel Park operator Tom Steinhoff said the “blip” on April 11 had clearly not come from swimmers in the water so the source was a “concern”. “The storm run-off [factor] is interesting because we did have a ton of rain. It could be an anomaly because of high rain levels.”

He said the latest results were welcome, adding that Snorkel Park was looking forward to a busy weekend and May 24 holiday. The Government promised in April 2014 to tell the public if sewage pollution levels off Bermuda’s beaches hit danger levels, after the United States Consulate warned US residents and tourists that the island’s waters could be unsafe at times, depending on wind and weather conditions. The first test results to be made public in 2014 included Hungry Bay in Devonshire, after fears were raised that sewage was ending up there from the Seabright sewage outfall in certain weather conditions. Hungry Bay is not listed as a sampling site this year and nor was it last year.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Hungry Bay is not a bathing beach. The Department is focusing the recreational water monitoring programme on popular bathing beaches in accordance with advice from Carpha (Caribbean Public Health Agency).”

She added: “Sampling results show that water quality of all monitored bathing beaches in Bermuda satisfies US EPA recreational water quality criteria. Bathing water quality results generally can be described as ‘excellent’ for Bermuda’s South Shore beaches.

“The public will be notified if waters exceed acceptable values by posted notice on the affected beaches, media release and by advisory at www.gov.bm.”

Seawater sampling

April 4 11 18 25 May 2 May 9 May 16

Snorkel Park 71 151 5 14 9 <1 1

Horseshoe Bay 1 <1 2 1 1 5 1

Warwick Long Bay 2 1 7 <1 1 <1 <1

Elbow Beach 1 <1 <1 <1 1 <1 1

Grape Bay 1 2 <1 1 <1 <1 <1

John Smith’s Bay <1 1 <1 1 <1 <1 <1

Shelly Bay <1 <1 <1 <1 <1 <1 3

Tobacco Bay <1 1 <1 <1 1 12 15

Clearwater Beach 2 <1 <1 <1 <1 <1 1

Enterococci – colony forming units per 100ml of water. Source: Department of Health