The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) monitors water quality from 25 sites at Alabama beaches. According to the ADEM Coastal Alabama Beach Monitoring Program, -all- of the most recent samples are below the enterococci threshold concentration (104 colonies per 100 ml of water). Enterococci is an “indicator bacteria” that is not harmful to humans but may indicate the presence of “potential human pathogens”. To aid in my understanding, I just call it poo.
The Cotton Bayou Beach monitoring site is of immediate interest to me. The enterococci level is less than 1 colony per 100 ml of water. No poo! However, the Fairhope Public Beach has been closed several times over the past few years because of high levels. I’m digging into that issue…
UPDATE: I spoke with a nice person from ADEM – the beach monitoring program is funded by the EPA and the funds cover monitoring, not source tracking. ADEM has applied for EPA microbial source tracking grant funding which might identify the source of the poo, but no luck so far. Source Molecular offers microbial source tracking for human, cattle, swine, bird, chicken, dog, deer, and horse fecal contamination. Looking at their price list, this seems like an affordable option that doesn’t need to wait on a federal grant. Most beach monitoring sites have no poo issues, so identifying the source (even just human or not) on an as needed basis could give some insight into the problem.
ADEM said that stormwater runoff sometimes contributed to higher than desired enterococci levels, but Baldwin County is in a drought. Fairhope has a sewage treatment plant nearby, but the effluent of the plant is monitored so it may not be the source. It’s a mystery…
Just last week a man was bitten on the ankle by a shark while riding a SeaDoo near the Florabama. Shark attacks are rare, but for those who want to know which sharks live in Alabama, Dr. Marcus Drymon wrote “Distributions of Sharks across a Continental Shelf in the Northern Gulf of Mexico”. Our most common sharks are the Atlantic sharpnose shark, blacknose shark, and blacktip shark. Blacktip sharks like shallow water (<10 meters) and blacknose sharks like middepth water (10 to 30 meters), while sharpnose sharks are abundant in both depth strata. Fun fact (well, maybe more of an educated observation noted in the study) – the Atlantic sharpnose sharks and the blacknose sharks appear to be using our deeper waters (> 30 m) for parturition (think of a shark nursery), while the blacktip sharks appear to be using our shallow waters for parturition.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources offers these tips on shark safety (aka people conservation):
Always stay in groups since sharks are more likely to attack a solitary individual.
Do not wander too far from the shore — this isolates an individual and additionally places one far away from assistance.
Avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight hours when sharks are most active and have a competitive sensory advantage.
Do not enter the water if bleeding from an open wound or if menstruating — a shark’s olfactory ability is quite acute.
Wearing shiny jewelry is discouraged because, to a shark, the reflected light resembles the sheen of fish scales.
Avoid waters with known effluents or sewage and those being used by sport or commercial fisherman, especially if there are signs of bait fishes or feeding activity. Diving seabirds are good indicators of such action.
Sightings of porpoises do not indicate the absence of sharks — both often eat the same food items.
Use extra caution when waters are murky and avoid uneven tanning and bright colored clothing — sharks see contrast particularly well.
Refrain from excess splashing and do not allow pets in the water because of their erratic movements.
Exercise caution when occupying the area between sandbars or near steep dropoffs — these are favorite hangouts for sharks.
Do not enter the water if sharks are known to be present and evacuate the water if sharks are seen while there. And, of course, do not harass a shark if you see one!
In addition to sharks and poo, another beach danger is jellyfish (moon jellies and stinging nettles):
* Carefully remove any remaining tentacles to avoid additional stings. DO NOT use bare hands.
* Immediately rinse area with saltwater. Fresh water will make the situation worse by causing the stinging cells that have not discharged yet do so.
* Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer is a common remedy. A paste can be made by mixing the meat tenderizer with saltwater. Another possible remedy is vinegar but vinegar is not recommended for Portuguese Man o’ War stings.
* If you have any difficulty swallowing or breathing call 911 immediately.
More beach dangers: rip currents, stingrays, sunburn, and alligators (I’ve seen them on secluded beaches). Then there’s the snakes and spiders and traffic and high insurance rates and stormwater drainage and sewage-closed oyster beds and the effect of Mississippi River flooding on brown shrimp hatcheries and maybe even some leftover oil (I visited last August and there was very little oil).
I can hardly wait…
Here are some older posts: