The Brunswick News

Beach health status subject to location

March 26, 2012

The beach at a popular picnic area on Jekyll Island remained under a bacteria advisory for almost five months, but that comes as no surprise to a state biologist.

St. Andrews Beach, which extends from Macy Lane to the St. Andrews picnic area, was posted as having a high level of enterococci bacteria in the ocean water from Nov. 2, 2011, until Wednesday - 20 weeks later.

That's a long time, but it's the location of the beach that's to blame, said Elizabeth Cheney, beach water quality program manager for the Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

The beach is on the island's sound side, closer to marshlands where birds nest, the source of the bacteria.

"(Advisories are) not uncommon for those sound-side beaches in the winter months," Cheney said. "They tend to go under advisory or stay under advisory a lot more frequently than in the summer months."

Birds migrate south in the winter to escape the northern cold.

Beaches on the island's shore side see fewer elevated bacteria levels year-round because of wave and tidal action, which keeps ocean-side areas flushed, Cheney said.

Water samples are taken regularly and tested for bacteria.

Beaches are not closed when under an advisory.

The advisories are posted by Coastal Health Department and warn against swimming and fishing in areas with high bacteria levels.

Swimmers who enter water with increased bacteria levels are at risk for skin rashes, gastrointestinal illnesses like diarrhea and vomiting, and can develop infected wounds if they enter the water with an open cut or sore.

Fish caught in water under a bacteria advisory should be rinsed with fresh water and thoroughly cooked.

A study by the University of Georgia found the Jekyll Island beach had no contamination due to human fecal matter, such as a septic runoff, which is the largest cause for concern when monitoring beach water quality, Cheney said.

Click here for a link to current DNR beach advisories for Jekyll Island.