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Just Go Through The Motions And Swim Undeterred

By Sarah Healey on March 29, 2012 in News

No one likes a whinger, or listening to the sound of a broken record, but this summer’s been wet enough to bog a duck! Gumboots replaced thongs and jumpers came out of the closet. This soggy summer also dampened the mood along our beaches with a lot of suspicious-looking froth washing ashore. Stormwater drains got a serious workout due to the increased rainfall, inevitably keeping many swimmers and surfers out of the drink.

To exacerbate concerns about pollution in our waters, an article was recently published in The Sydney Morning Herald stating that more than half of Sydney’s beaches were not consistently safe for swimming this summer, and our stormwater drains after rainfall haven’t improved in the past 15 years.

These alarming figures caught the attention of The Beast, prompting us to contact Cris Hickey, the manager of Beachwatch Programs at the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

When questioned about the validity of the statements made in the SMH article, Hickey was quick to point out its flaws.

“That’s just wrong. The journalist was referring to data from February where almost half of the water samples had one elevated result [Enterococci levels – the bacteria found in faeces] within the February period due to high levels of rainfall. That just means a beach wasn’t suitable for swimming on that one sampling occasion, not that it wasn’t suitable for the whole of summer.” Hickey said.

Data collected by Beachwatch reveals that beach water quality in Sydney has improved significantly over the last two decades, with the best performing beaches being Bondi, Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly, Coogee, Maroubra and Little Bay. Rainfall obviously affects results from year to year, with the main culprit of pollution purging being stormwater drains.

According to a Waverley Council spokesperson: “It is inevitable that the water at our beaches will become somewhat contaminated as the stormwater picks up all the pollutant from our streets and homes and carries it down the stormwater system to our beaches.”

One beach consistently graded as ‘very poor’ is Malabar. The swimming site is extremely susceptible to faecal contamination due to discharge from the stormwater drain on the northern side of the beach, regardless of whether it has rained or not. However, a $2million project is halfway completed, with the two stormwater pipes that discharge into the beach being diverted into a Sydney Water pipe that flows out at the old cliff-face outfall, well away from the swimming cove.

“We’re hopeful that it’s going to significantly improve water quality at Malabar,” Randwick Council spokesman Joshua Hay told The Beast.

To ensure our beaches don’t look like chop suey, we all need to take some responsibility. Don’t treat drains as garbage disposals – oil, chemicals, plastic, animal droppings, garden clippings and anything else you’d be embarrassed to let anyone see you dumping do not belong in the drain. It all ends up washed into our beaches.

Unfortunately this message still seems to fall on deaf ears.

“The amount of streets and gutter-ways filled with rubbish – people just throw everything everywhere,” local lifeguard Harry Nightingale remarked.

Unfortunately we cannot control rain patterns. On the whole, our beaches are pretty safe for swimming – just make sure you avoid a dip during and at least one day after heavy rainfall, due to the possibility of pollution from stormwater drains. By taking the risk you could end up picking up a host of nasties like gastroenteritis, ear, nose and throat infections, sinusitis, and even deep tissue infections through open wounds. And I’m sure we’d all like to avoid that!