From mid-May to mid-September, local health departments routinely monitor recreational beach water quality as part of the Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program.
Enterococci, bacteria found in animal and human waste, is monitored to determine if beaches should close. A beach will close if an initial sample and a follow-up sample exceed the standard of 104 enterococci per 100 milliliters of water.
The enderococci figure indicates the presence of pathogens that may cause illness in humans, according to Research Scientist and Cooperative Coast Monitoring Coordinator Virginia Loftin.
Beach water contamination often occurs due to rainfall amounts that result in stormwater discharges containing excessive levels of bacteria, Loftin said.
Monmouth County’s Wreck Pond is subject to precautionary closures due to contaminated stormwater discharges, according to the DEP’s website.
“Generally, we see higher bacteria levels after rainfall,” she said.
A broken sewer line or fecal matter from animals such as dogs or raccoons washed into the water could also cause high enterococci levels, but is rare, Loftin said.
“A flock of birds could fly over right before collecting a source,” Loftin said. Such an incident could cause a higher than standard bacteria level and would indicate an irregular source. “If we have high counts repeatedly, there’s a consistent source.”
Sources vary from beach to beach. Red Pond, a coastal lake, contains a large discharge outfall pipe that flows into the ocean, Loftin said.
“Red Pond has been a past source of bacteria for some of the bathing beaches surrounding that outfall,” Loftin said. Contamination from that pipe could affect the beaches in Spring Lake and Sea Girt. The impact has been minimized following a 300-foot extension of the pipe in 2006 to relocate the bacteria further offshore.
At Miller Beach North in Highlands, there are stormwater pipes, a couple of which failed in June causing higher bacteria levels, Loftin said.
If an initial sample at a particular beach comes in at 104 or higher, a re-sample is immediately required and a sanitary test of the area is conducted, Loftin said. The monitors will collect a sample at the center site, and then perform bracketing samples by sampling side to side to determine the extent of contamination.
If two consecutive samples exceed the standard, the bathing beach closes until sample results are below 104.
From January to July, 17 samples were done at various beaches in Monmouth County.
A higher number of sampling is performed during the summer months since people are using the recreational bathing beaches, Loftin said.
“Beaches are selected specifically because they’re near a potential source of pollution,” she said. Those sources could be a coastal lake discharge or sewer line.
The New Jersey Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program also selects locations representative of beaches in the area.
“If there’s a mile with no pollution source, we choose monitoring sites typical of those lifeguarding beaches within that mile,” she said.
This interactive map depicts the beaches that have been sampled since January. Adjust the map and click the dots to see what the bacteria levels were at a specific beach.
The enterococci figure used is representative of all the samples taken in a given month. For example, in June, four regular samples were taken at Shark River Beach and Yacht in Neptune Township. The figure shown on the map represents the highest sample taken. See below:
- June 24: <10
- June 17: <10
- June 10: 170
- June 3: 400
By those figures, according to our map, the enterococci level was 400 or lower during the month of June.
Due to the high figure on June 3 and June 10, additional samples were taken at those locations. On June 3, following the 400-sample, the monitors came up with figures less than 10. On June 10, a second sample was 100 and another was less than 10.
Similarly, each beach that exceeded the standard had additional samples taken that were below the 104 mark, enabling it to remain open.
While some Monmouth County beaches occasionally have levels above 104, there have been no closings this year due to bacteria on the entire coast of New Jersey, Loftin said, although there has been an advisory in Long Branch.
In 2011, there were 84 precautionary closures for ocean beaches in New Jersey, which occur after rainfall, and three closures due to bacteria in excess of standard. Beaches were open for bathing over 99.8 percent of the time in 2011 and 2010.
Information on the Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program could be found on the DEP’s website. The website also provides up-to-date beach monitoring results as well as information on beach closings and advisories.