2017 Coastal Georgia Beach Users Survey

Brunswick, GA

Clean Beaches - Healthy People for Coastal Georgia

Georgia Beaches are unique natural treasures and a popular tourist attraction area that receives millions of visitors per year and is home to many residents. The Department of Natural Resources Coastal Resources Division has been routinely monitoring the beaches on the Georgia coast. Among these beaches, some occasionally have been under advisory due to high bacteria levels.

A beach advisory is posted when a single sample of indicator bacteria (Enterococci) are higher than 70 colony forming units (CFU) per 100 ml. Although this is a straightforward method to give an idea whether the beaches are unsafe to swim, this method does not provide information on the source of the pollution which makes the decision making challenging to mitigate the problem, in this case, controlling the pollutant so that it no longer poses a health risk for the public.

Microbiological pollution of recreational waters can cause a variety of health outcomes including outbreaks of gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses, skin, ear and eye infections. The pathogens responsible for these illnesses demonstrate seasonal trends, with outbreaks peaking during summer recreational months.

Through the Coastal Incentive Grant Program, GA DNR has funded researchers from Georgia Southern University to identify these sources of pollution at problem beaches. Since 2016, Dr. Aslan and her team has been identifying the sources of bacteria using state of the art molecular methods. Sewage is the main source of waterborne pathogens in water. Sources such as birds on the other hand, can also carry pathogens that can cause diseases in humans.

The outcome of this study will be identifying the sources of high bacteria levels causing advisories in selected beaches. The researchers have also been targeting waterborne pathogens such as Salmonella and Giardia to estimate health risk of exposure at these beaches.

One outreach component of the study is to communicate with the public to assess their knowledge on beach water quality. This summer, Dr. Aslan’s team is conducting a series of surveys at the beaches as well as through online outlets. The survey asks beach users about their knowledge and perception of water quality notifications along Georgia's beaches. Your responses are very important in helping coastal managers to better protect safe public use of Georgia's beaches and waters. You can complete the online survey by clicking here. The survey will remain open until July 31, 2017. At the completion of the study, informative signs on point and non-point source pollution will be installed at pilot beaches.

We greatly appreciate your participation in the survey and if you have any questions please contact Elizabeth Cheney at elizabeth.cheney@dnr.ga.gov.

Photo of Dr. Aslan's students conducting outreach at CoastFest