After five days of being closed for bacteria levels, Conimicut Point Beach has been deemed safe for swimming by the Department of Health. Already late into June, Conimicut was the first and only beach closing so far this summer for Warwick.
Last year there was a spike in beach closings; Conimicut Point Beach was closed for a total of 17 days, Goddard Memorial for seven, City Park for 13 days, and Oakland Beach for a whopping 27 days last summer. By this time last year all the beaches in Warwick had been closed at least once, and Warwick wasn’t the only municipality suffering from closures. Statewide there were 107 closures compared to the 54 from 2012.
“It’s difficult to compare data from year to year because there are so many variables to consider,” said Annemarie Beardsworth, spokeswoman for the Department of Health.
She mentioned that weather is a huge factor determining bacteria levels in the ocean, especially rainfall that can have polluted storm water runoff into the bay.
Tom Kutcher, the Narragansett Baykeeper for Save the Bay, concurred that this year’s weather has had a huge effect on the decline of beach closings in Warwick. Last year was very wet; it rained often, allowing chemicals, bacteria and other pollutants to drain into the bay.
“I haven’t seen a substantial change in the quality of the water other than it has been drier this year and runoff hasn’t had the chance to wash into the bay. The water quality, especially around Warwick, is due to local pollution,” Kutcher said.
The Department of Health closes a beach when bacteria levels become too high. When a single sample records 104 or more colony forming units (cfu) per 100 mL, a beach is closed. These levels can prove sickly to individuals, especially very young, old and those with a lowered immune system, causing ear or throat infections as well as gastroenteritis that can lead to vomiting, stomach pain and fever.
Beardsworth listed numerous ways that beachgoers could help protect the beaches from bacteria and pollutants. Individuals should not leave trash on the beach or in the water, nor should human waste be disposed of in the ocean. Parents with young children should make sure their child is wearing an appropriate swimming diaper when in the water. If an individual walks their dog along the beach, they should pick up any waste they leave behind.
“People should try and avoid feeding the wildlife,” Beardsworth explained. “Yes, we all want to help the animals, but when the animals are fed they are encouraged to stay, interrupting their normal patterns and animal waste can build up in the water.”
Kutcher said that a lot could be done at home as well. Because a lot of the pollution comes from storm water, it would be beneficial if houses near the beaches used less fertilizer on their lawns. People should curb their pets when they walk them, even throughout the neighborhood, and should make sure that cars aren’t dripping any fluids.
Kutcher explained that the damaging bacteria they look for is associated with feces and failing or outdated cesspools could be contributing to the issue.
“It is not fair,” Kutcher said, “you have people who are paying for upgrades or sewers and people who aren’t. The beach is everyone’s resource and some systems are destroying that.”
Not only is the pollution harming your trips to the beach this summer, but also the entire lifestyles of the animals living in the bay.
Algae blooms, when out of control, deplete the water of its oxygen supply, as happened with the massive Greenwich Bay fish kill of August of 2003.
Kutcher has received some calls already this summer about visible algae. He explained that what are pollutants for the ocean also act as nutrients to algae and bacteria. Algae flourishes on nitrogen and the limited nitrogen levels in healthy water ensure that algae blooms don’t dominate over the entire ecosystem. With the pollutants swept into the bay though, algae are allotted higher levels of nitrogen and thus begin to overthrow the natural order of their habitat.
Although this year has seen fewer closings than last year, so far, the dangers of pollutants are only one rainstorm away.