Why does Coastal Health District issue beach advisories?

Local News

TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) – For the past two weeks, officials have issued beach water advisories urging people to stay out of the water on parts of Tybee Island. Those advisories were eventually lifted.

News 3 wanted to know why they are issued in the first place. We tagged along when a technician with Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) did a weekly test.

It takes just seconds to perform the test. Technicians dip a small beaker into the water. They test five spots along Tybee Island’s beaches, including North Beach and Polk Street Beach.

Technicians take the sample back to Brunswick for testing, which takes 24 hours.

They also take a larger jug to test water temperature, Ph levels and more. Technicians can get those results instantaneously. 

If bacteria levels are too high, Ginger Heidel, a risk communicator with the Coastal Health District, issues a water advisory. DNR then changes a sign in front of all beach access points.

“The bacteria is from mammals,” she said. “That could be humans, that could be animals. It could be from birds. It could be from dolphins. It could be from heavy rain that washes bacteria from the marshes.”

She says it happens more often when temperatures are high, but she issues advisories all year. She says they get noticed more often during the summer because more people go to the beach and share the advisories on social media.

If bacteria levels are high, someone tests the water again the next day. 

“Bacteria levels can go back to normal either because the tides may naturally dilute the bacteria and wash it out, the sun will break the bacteria down. And there is prey in the ocean that will break it down,” said Heidel. 

Until that happens, advisories warn people against swimming in certain areas. Coastal Health District says risk zones are large for a reason. “We can’t predict exactly where the water is going to move or how it’s going to move,” said Heidel. “We’re trying to give people a snapshot in time. That’s really all it is.”

So, Heidel says to use your best judgment. 

“If they do get infected by this bacteria, it could cause them to be sick. But we can’t say for certain that if you get in the water, you are going to get sick,” said Heidel. 

Coastal Health District says there are ways you can help keep the water clean:

  • Do not illegally discharge substances from boats
  • Use public restrooms instead of the ocean 
  • Change swimming diapers often 
  • Keep yourself clean

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