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Science signals summer swim safety

The BEACH report is in

Our scientists analyzed 2021 data on water quality at popular marine beaches in Washington. They looked at levels of harmful bacteria in the water that are found in human and animal poop. Some beaches passed, meeting the safe swimming standard every time. Others did not fare so well. See the BEACH Program 2021 annual report to find out how your beach fared. 

2021 — A rough year, enterococcus-wise

Overall, 77 percent of the beaches that we monitored met the swimming criteria and stayed open for safe swimming all season. For a beach to be open, the water needs to have "passing" levels of the fecal (poop) bacteria enterococcus at the time of water sampling. This was 18 percent fewer passing beaches than the year 2020. This was an appreciable drop in the number of passing beaches.

When we detect high concentrations of fecal bacteria in the water, we work with local health jurisdictions, tribal governments, and volunteer groups to issue an advisory. This past summer had an unprecedented number of advisories, most of which followed the June 26 - July 2, 2021 heat wave. 

Wait, did you say fecal bacteria?

Yes. Fecal bacteria like enterococcus is usually found in feces, or poop, from animals, like humans, dogs, seals, and seagulls. Anyone who uses marine beaches for recreational purposes like swimming, scuba diving, surfing or kayaking can be exposed to illness associated with water contaminated by poop. Even being in contact with the sand while beachcombing or shellfishing can pose a risk if bacteria levels are high.

Contact with fecal contaminated waters can result in gastroenteritis, skin rashes, upper respiratory infections, and other illnesses. Children and immunocompromised people may be especially vulnerable to waterborne illnesses. If you come in contact with fecal contaminated sand or water, we recommend washing your hands or showering after contact.

What can you do to help? 

Each of us can help keep our beaches clean by picking up trash, cleaning up after our pets, and avoiding swimming when we are sick. Please see our tips for keeping beaches clean and swimming safely

You can also help us by providing feedback about our 2022 list of proposed beaches to sample. Review the proposed list of beaches we plan to test, and send us your comments by May 19, 2022.