As millions of Americans head for the ocean this summer, many will find out that their favorite beach has been closed because the water is too polluted. According to Oceana, based on historical data and trends, there will likely be more than 18,000 beach closures this year due to unacceptable levels of contaminants. This is a 40% increase from 2001, (the most recent year for which data are available) when there were over 13,000 beach closures.
“Instead of seeing improvements, we’re seeing thousands of beach closures every year,” noted Jackie Savitz, Director of Oceana’s Pollution Program, “unless we do a better job of prevention, people will continue to get sick on vacation, be disappointed when they get to the beach, and end up stuck at the pool.”
To help vacationers “know before they go,” Oceana and Earth 911 are launching a free early warning service about beach closings. Using new web-based technology, Oceana will send alerts to beachgoers about their favorite beaches before they head down to the shore. “It’s frustrating to go to the beach and not be able to go in the water,” commented beach vacationer Lois Herzfeld. “I’m telling all my friends about the Oceana alerts because I think everyone who heads to the shore will want to sign up for the alert system.” The alerts will be sent via e-mail and text messages for cell phones and PDA’s. People can sign up for this free service at www.Oceana.org.
America’s beaches have been closing at record rates in past years due to contamination from sewage, cruise ship waste and other sources. When contamination reaches EPA’s limits, counties must close the beaches to protect swimmers. In 2001, the most recent year for which data are available, there were 13,410 beach closures, 18.6% more than the previous year. Assuming conservatively that closures continue to increase at a similar rate, Ocean forecasts that about 18,600 beaches will close this year.
“The good news is that many states are finally testing the waters, though they could still do a lot more to prevent beach pollution,” said Savitz. “People have a right to swim at their local beaches and a right to know whether it is clean enough to do so,” she added. Beach closures depend on a variety of variables such as rainfall and temperature making beach closure rates difficult to predict. Improvements in waste management and coastal development practices could lower the number of beach closures.
Oceana is a non-profit international organization dedicated to restoring and protecting the world's oceans through policy advocacy, science, law and public education. Founded in 2001, Oceana's members come from more than 150 countries and territories. Oceana, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has additional offices in key U.S. coastal areas, a South American office in Santiago, Chile, and will open a European office in fall of 2003. For more information on Oceana and the beach closure system, please visit www.Oceana.org.