UPDATE: The “No Swim” advisory has been lifted.
PREVIOUS RELEASE: SARASOTA COUNTY, FL (WFLA) – Sarasota County health officials have issued a precautionary “No Swim” advisory for Siesta Beach.
The precautionary “No Swim” advisory is due to elevated levels of enterococci (enteric) bacteria, some of which are naturally present in the environment, on Thursday, Oct. 29. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there is a correlation between the levels of enteric bacteria in recreational waters and human health.
Signage advising the public not to swim or engage in water recreation at Siesta Beach will remain in place until follow-up water testing results meet the EPA’s recreational water quality standard. The Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County will do another test on Friday, Oct. 30.
Enteric bacteria can come from a variety of natural and man-made sources including pet waste, livestock, birds, wildlife (land-dwelling and marine), stormwater runoff, and human sewage from failed septic systems and sewage spills.
The rapid response team from Sarasota County has determined that the cause of the elevated bacteria levels is likely due to natural sources. The response team observed a wrack line of decaying algae. Wrack lines, which contain marine algae and a variety of marine organisms that provide food for shorebirds and wildlife, act as natural bacteria reservoirs. Large numbers of shore birds were also observed feeding along the water’s edge. High surf conditions associated with recent tropical systems churn up sand from the bottom and can affect water quality. Abnormally high tides and recent heavy rains in the area that wash accumulated pollutants, including bacteria from pet feces, birds, and wildlife into local waters could also be an important factor.
DOH-Sarasota Environmental Administrator Tom Higginbotham emphasizes that the Florida Healthy Beaches program protects beach goers from conditions unsuitable for swimming by sampling beach water and providing accurate and up-to-date explanations of the results.
“When these bacteria are detected in high concentrations in recreational waters, there is a risk that some people who swallow water while swimming or have contact with water entering the skin through a cut or sore may become ill with gastrointestinal illnesses, infections or rashes.” says Higginbotham.
Local health officials emphasize that beaches remain open. However, residents and visitors are urged to take precautions by not wading or swimming in the water or engaging in water recreation at Siesta Beach until the advisory is lifted. In addition, shellfish such as crabs and shrimp collected in the immediate area of Siesta Beach should not be consumed. However, it is safe to fish and consume fin-fish from these waters.
To help keep beach water safe for swimming and recreation, officials say people should not allow pets to roam on beaches and in park areas and pick up pet waste since summer rains tend to wash accumulated pollutants, including bacteria from birds and wildlife into local waterways. Additionally, children in diapers and people of all ages who are experiencing diarrhea should not go into the water.