The Surfrider Foundation is an international non-profit organization that is dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s ocean, waves, and beaches. The Surfrider Foundation works with a large network of grassroots environmentalists, who serve as a first line of response for water quality monitoring on the coastline. The Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) is the Surfrider Foundation’s volunteer-run water testing program. Operating within a national network of over 30 labs, BWTF groups provide critical water quality information to protect public health and clean water through the analysis of samples collected by citizen scientists. BWTF labs test for enterococcus, a fecal bacteria that lives in the gut of warm-blooded animals. When enterococcus is found in the water, it indicates that other harmful pathogens may be present that could make you or your pet sick. You can learn more about this on Surfrider Kauai’s SciStarter page. There may be a BWTF chapter near you! In order to summarize each year’s hard work, the Surfrider Kauai Chapter, which operates on the island of Kauai in the state of Hawaii, releases an annual report to show trends in their data. Other chapters across the United States also do this. The 2018 water quality report just released by the Surfrider Foundation Kauai Chapter’s Blue Water Task Force program shows that surfbreaks and lifeguarded beaches are generally clean across the island, but several streams and rivers are chronically polluted where they discharge onto the beach and into the ocean. See local media coverage here. The Kauai Chapter established its BWTF water testing program over a decade ago to supplement the water quality information provided by the Hawaii Department of Health’s (HDOH) beach monitoring program. The state collects water samples at popular ocean beaches, and Surfrider collects at surfbreaks and in estuaries where canal water, stream water, or river water meet the ocean at the beach. The latter sites are extremely popular places for children to play in the water. Most of the island’s 42 beaches monitored by the state, and they nearly always test as clean, with bacteria levels far below the water quality criteria set to protect public health in recreational waters. Four beaches have shown some problems, with high bacteria levels. HDOH has posted permanent signs at two of these beaches that failed to meet the health standard every time they were tested in 2018: Niumalu Beach Park and Hanamaulu Beach. Visit the Clean Water Branch’s website to view current advisories issued by HDOH.
Kauai Blue Water Task Force releases annual water quality report. Photo credit: Surfrider Kauai In contrast, Surfrider Kauai’s BWTF data shows ten sampling sites that exceeded the health standard every single time they were tested last year. Another eight sites revealed high bacteria levels more than 80% of the time they were tested. Despite this, only a few of these chronically polluted sites host any physical signs at the beach warning people of the health risks. Many are preferred spots for families with children to get into the calm, shallow water, where streams flow across the beach and into the ocean. In the coming year, Surfrider Kauai looks forward to working with HDOH to identify polluted waters and to make sure that residents and visitors alike are aware of potential health threats at the beach. See table summaries of both Surfrider and HDOH data from Kauai in 2018 at the close of this post.
Children play at the mouth of the Nawiliwili Stream where high bacteria levels are often measured by Surfrider Kauai. Photo credit: Surfrider Kauai. In order to further build community awareness of water quality issues on Kauai, the chapter gives many presentations throughout the year to community and school groups. The chapter even holds hands-on workshops, so local students can engage in the water testing methodologies used by the BWTF and develop an in-depth understanding of the local issues that affect water quality on Kauai. More media coverage of the impact these classroom and field-based workshops have on the students can be found here.
A student learns how to measure salinity of a water quality sample with a refractometer. Photo credit: Surfrider Kauai.
Dr. Carl Berg, Senior Scientist with Surfrider Kauai, introduces students to water quality science. Photo credit: Surfrieder Kauai. This coming year, the Kauai Chapter will be processing their water samples in lab space hosted by the Island School, a preparatory school on Kauai. Dr. Carl Berg, who leads the Kauai Chapter’s BWTF, is working with Dr. Jeffrey Kozak, Dean of Academics, and microbiologist Dr. John Alderete to offer training to all the student volunteers who will be participating in this program. After 10 years of maintaining their own lab space, the chapter is grateful for the opportunities that this new partnership with the Island School will bring. Together they will continue to work to ensure that the health of anyone enjoying the beach or the coastal waters on Kauai is safe and protected. All sampling locations and recent water quality results can be found on the BWTF website. The chapter also shares all of their data on the popular Swim Guide mobile app. Summary tables of Surfrider and HDOH 2018 data can be found below.
To find out how to get more involved, you can check out the Kauai Blue Water Task Force project page on SciStarter by clicking here. If you’re not on the island of Kauai, you can check SciStarter’s project finder to see if there’s a BWTF chapter near you.
Want more citizen science? Check out SciStarter’s Project Finder! With citizen science projects spanning every field of research, task and age group, there’s something for everyone!
About the Author
Mara Dias is the Surfrider Foundation's Water Quality Manager, who leads Surfrider's Clean Water Initiative. Within the Clean Water initiative are the Blue Water Task Force, Surfrider's citizen science water quality monitoring program, and Ocean Friendly Gardens, Surfrider's educational landscaping program that aims to reduce water quality issues caused by urban runoff. Mara is active in securing federal funding for agency-run water testing programs through the EPA BEACH Act while also providing Surfrider Chapters the support to solve pollution problems on a grassroots level.