Both government agencies and nonprofit organizations are working together this summer to test local beaches to ensure the water is safe for tourists and residents.
Miami-Dade County currently has two types of water quality programs. The first one focuses on the Atlantic Ocean and the health of its beaches. The other tests water quality in Biscayne Bay.
“On the beach side, the Department of Health runs the Atlantic Ocean program and they test the waters once every two weeks,” said Margarita Wells, Miami Beach’s environment resource manager. “The main purpose of the program is to test for particles in the water.”
These tests are done throughout many beaches in Florida under the Healthy Beaches Program, a statewide program focusing on making sure that the bacteria in the water isn’t harmful to the public. If the tests come back elevated, the organization will test the waters again and determine if the beaches need to be closed.
“We look at general sample parameters, including, but not limited to, turbidity, phosphates and bacteria,” said Maurice Pierre, a research biologist for Miami-Dade County.
According to the county website, Biscayne Bay continues to be one of Florida’s healthiest estuaries. However, within the last 10 years, it has dealt with several human-based and natural disturbances.
According to Wells, human-based disturbances include sea walls being built instead of natural shorelines. Also, drainage systems for all the municipalities throughout Miami-Dade discharge their water into Biscayne Bay.
Other disturbances have been caused by changes in water temperature, tides and currents. Hurricanes and large storms also play a large role.
In March, the Surfrider Foundation launched the Blue Water Task Force (BWTF), warning citizens and local officials about water quality problems. The program alerts the local community and local officials on water quality problems as they are discovered, rather than waiting several days.
The samples are collected in five locations, including South Pointe Park and Surfside.
“Our goal for BWTF is to increase the frequency of beach water testing at popular local beaches,” said Spencer Ash, the Vice Chair of the Miami chapter. “We want to provide the community useful information about the current health of the waters that we swim and play in.”
The water tests performed by BWTF are done to measure the amounts of Enterococcus bacteria in a water sample. Enterococcus bacteria are coliform bacteria that indicate human or animal waste and other pathogens found in fecal matter that can make people sick with the stomach flu, rashes, eye and ear infections or worse.
Once the test results are in, they are shared with the local community on Surfline and directly with individuals on the beach.
“BWTF is hoping to be able to fill in data gaps, improving the public’s knowledge of the safety of their beach water,” said Ash.
Below, a graph from earlier this month providing the rate of Enterococcus (Provided by: The Surfrider Foundation’s Miami Chapter)