Alabama has 97 coastal beaches stretching along 50 miles of the Gulf of Mexico coast and 70 miles of bay and island shoreline. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) administers the state's beachwater quality monitoring program.
BP Oil Disaster Continued to Impact Alabama's Beaches in 2011
Alabama's beaches were impacted by the BP oil disaster of 2010. Although all oil spill advisories were lifted by the end of July 2010, Shoreline Contamination Assessment Teams continued to conduct cleanup activities on a daily basis, and warning signs were posted at all of Alabama's Gulf Coast beaches throughout 2011 and into 2012 because of the occasional presence of tar mats and tar balls from the spill.
What Does Beachwater Monitoring Show?
In 2011, Alabama reported 97 coastal beaches. Of these, 8 (8%) were assigned a monitoring frequency of more than once a week, 12 (12%) once a week, 5 (5%) every other week, and 72 (74%) were not assigned a monitoring frequency. In 2011, 6% of all reported beach monitoring samples exceeded the state's daily maximum bacterial standard of 104 colonies/100 ml. The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rates of the state standard in 2011 were Fairhope Public Beach in Baldwin County (25%), Dog River, Alba Club in Mobile County (23%), and Mary Ann Nelson Beach (18%) in Baldwin County. Beaches in Mobile County had the highest exceedance rate of the state standard in 2011 (8%), followed by Baldwin County (6%). NRDC considers all reported samples individually (without averaging) when calculating the percent exceedance rates in this analysis. This includes duplicate samples and samples taken outside the official beach season, if any.
* Please note that only samples from a common set of beaches monitored each year from 2007-2011 are included in the bar chart.
What Are Alabama's Sampling Practices?
Monitoring is conducted throughout the year, with more frequent monitoring from May to September.
ADEM, along with the Alabama Department of Public Health and U.S. EPA, determines sampling practices, locations, standards, and notification protocols and practices throughout the state. Samples are collected 6 to 12 inches below the surface, usually in knee-deep water. Whether a beach gets monitored and how frequently it is monitored is determined using a quantitative ranking scheme that weighs three factors: the amount of use, the potential for contamination from nearby sources, and the presence of other important factors such as high use by the elderly or the very young.
Once an exceedance is reported, samples are collected daily until the standard is met. States that monitor more frequently after an exceedance is found will tend to have higher percent exceedance rates and lower total advisory days than they would if their sampling schedule did not increase after an exceedance was found.
How Many Beach Advisories Were Issued in 2011?
Total advisory days for 12 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less decreased 87% to 25 days in 2011 from 195 days in 2010. However, there were 159 advisory days in 2010 that were issued because of the Gulf oil spill. If the spill-related beach advisories in 2010 were not counted, the decrease in advisory days in 2011 would be 31%. In prior years, there were 34 advisory days in 2009, 14 days in 2008, 30 days in 2007, 44 days in 2006, and 27 days in 2005. There were no extended or permanent events in 2011. Extended events are those in effect more than six weeks but not more than 13 consecutive weeks; permanent events are in effect for more than 13 consecutive weeks. All advisory days in 2011 were due to monitoring that revealed elevated bacteria levels.
How Does Alabama Determine When to Warn Visitors About Swimming?
Alabama does not issue beach closings; the state's policy is to issue advisories only. An enterococcus single-sample maximum of 104 cfu/100ml is the standard used to issue beach advisories in Alabama. No geometric mean standard is applied when making advisory decisions.
Beaches are given green status when sampling results meet the standard. When sample results exceed the standard, the status changes to yellow. Yellow status indicates that there may be an increased risk of illness associated with swimming in such water, and that the beach is being immediately retested. When a sample exceeds the standard, there are no overriding factors that can be taken into account before converting to yellow status. If a resample, taken the next day, also exceeds the standard, a public health advisory (red status) is issued. Red status indicates that resampling revealed enterococcus levels greater than the threshold.
There are no standards that mandate preemptive advisories in response to rainfall or sewage spills, but full-scale advisories for all sites have been issued by the county and state health departments after hurricanes and during the 2010 BP oil disaster.
Alabama 2011 Monitoring Results and Notice and Advisory Days
||Assigned Monitoring Frequency
||% of samples exceeding state standards
||Closing or Advisory days