Swim advisories due to high bacteria levels in the ocean were common this past summer, and more recently following Hurricane Florence. There are ways to help reduce bacteria levels on our beaches.
Whenever it rains, water that runs off into the ocean often carries with it pollutants that are bad for our health. Water along our beaches is tested to make sure it is safe for swimming.
Katie Altman, a Water Resources Agent for Clemson Extension says “DHEC monitors enterococcus bacteria levels in the ocean along our beaches, and if that type of bacteria is there, it indicates that there is likely fecal matter, which means there could be human pathogens like bacteria and viruses that can harm our health. *So, if those levels are really high, especially after a rain event when bacteria are getting flushed out of our waterways off land and into the ocean, DHEC will release a short term swim advisory. So you will see signs up at beach accesses. It doesn’t mean the beach is necessarily closed, but there are certain recommendations that go along with that, like not putting your head underwater, or not swimming with very small children, or if your immune system is compromised.”
Some areas where storm water is constantly channeled into the ocean, they might put out a long term swim advisory because there is kind of a constant supply of pollutants and bacteria coming into the ocean.
To keep bacteria levels on our beaches low, septic tank maintenance is very important. Also, pet waste should be picked up and not left to wash away with the rain.
Another big concern that might not seem obvious is pouring cooking grease down your sinks or down storm water drains. Because that grease can solidify in a pipe and cause damages or clogs, which can cause sewer overflows, which is of course going to contribute to that bacteria content in our water.
The proper way to get rid of cooking grease is to pour it into a can or jar, and throw it away with your normal trash, or bring it to a recycling center.
When a swim advisory is issued, it does not mean the beach is closed, just that swimming is not recommended, especially for young children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.