Citizen science pushes Hawai’i Department of Health to act on beach pollution

For the past seven years, citizen scientist volunteers with the Kaua’i chapter of the Surfrider Foundation Beach Watch Task Force have been testing the waters at 27 recreational sites along the Kaua’i coastline. This summer they achieved a victory when the Hawai’i Department of Health (HDOH) finally acknowledged the concerning levels of pollution in local streams and beaches.

Beach Watch Task Force (BWTF) is the all-volunteer branch of The Surfrider Foundation, an advocacy group committed to protecting water quality. BWTF chapters test the water quality of ocean and bay beaches, and freshwater sources not monitored by state or local government agencies. Water samples are tested against EPA and state standards for safe recreational water. Results are publicly available on their website.

Citizen scientists volunteering with BWTF Kaua’i have found consistently high levels of enterococcal bacteria in a number of streams and beaches, counts well above the cutoff for safety. Enterococci inhabit the gut of humans and other mammals, and can be an indicator of fecal matter. In their 2015 Annual Report, BWTF Kaua’i stated that seven of the streams tested “failed to meet the state bacteria standard over 90% of the time they were tested.”

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