State Summary: Florida

Ranked 13th in Beachwater Quality (out of 30 states)
5% of samples exceeded national standards for designated beach areas in 2012

Protecting swimmers from bacteria, viruses, and other contaminants in beachwater requires leadership. Federal officials must help clean up polluted stormwater runoff—the most commonly identified cause of beach closings and swimming advisories—by developing national rules that require pollution sources to prevent stormwater where it starts by retaining it on-site.

The Environmental Protection Agency must also set beachwater quality standards protective of human health and provide states with the support they need to monitor beach pollution and notify the public when pollution levels are high.

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Florida 2012 Beachwater Quality Summary

Reported Sources of Beachwater Contamination
(number of closing/advisory days)

  • 1,813 (78%) stormwater runoff
  • 1,627 (70%) wildlife
  • 1,206 (52%) sewage spills/leaks
  • 1,124 (48%) other contamination sources
  • 432 (19%) unknown contamination sources

(Totals exceed total days and 100% because more than one contamination source was reported for most events.)

With its year-round swim season and more than 1,000 miles of coastline, Florida has the most coastal swimmers in the nation. The state has more than 600 public coastal beaches stretching along its Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico shores. A national survey on recreation and the environment in 2000 estimated that about 14 million people visit Florida’s beaches annually.

What are the Water Quality Challenges and Improvements in Florida?

Tropical Storms

Hurricane Sandy was one of the largest storms ever to hit the northeastern United States. Killing 159 people and causing an estimated $70 billion in damage in eight states, Sandy was the most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season and the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history. Sandy hit southern Florida on October 25, 2012, bringing tropical-force winds and heavy rains for several days. Tropical storms prior to Sandy also left Florida with more than 2 feet of rain. Stormwater runoff from this heavy rainfall caused an increase of fecal indicator bacteria and affected beachwater quality.

Improved Public Information

In February 2013, the Florida Department of Health (DOH) updated its Healthy Beaches web page to make it more accessible to the public and informative. In the 2013 monitoring season, DOH plans to add the monitoring results for more than 100 freshwater (inland) bathing beaches to its marine Healthy Beaches web page.

What Does Beachwater Monitoring Show?1

In 2012, Florida reported 636 coastal beaches, of which 76 (12%) were monitored once a week and 184 (29%) every other week; 376 (59%) were not monitored. In 2012, 6% of all reported beach monitoring samples exceeded the state’s daily maximum enterococcus standard of 104 colonies/100 ml and/or a fecal coliform standard of 400 colonies/100 ml, or both. The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rates of the state standards in 2012 were Garniers in Okaloosa County (83%); Monument Beach in Gulf County (72%); Rocky Bayou (Fred Gannon State Park) (61%) and Liza Jackson Park (50%) in Okaloosa County; Bayview Park in Escambia County (45%); Lincoln Park (45%) and Poquito Park (38%) in Okaloosa County; and St. Joe Beach in Gulf County (32%). Okaloosa County had the highest exceedance rate of the daily maximum standard in 2012 (35%), followed by Gulf (29%), Walton (21%), Escambia (16%), Bay (12%), Hillsborough (9%), Sarasota (5%), Santa Rosa (5%), Monroe (5%), Broward (5%), Martin (5%), Pasco (4%), Pinellas (4%), Miami-Dade (2%), St Lucie (2%), Manatee (2%), Charlotte (1%), Franklin (1%), Brevard (1%), Lee (1%), and Palm Beach (1%). No samples taken in Volusia, Hernando, Wakulla, Flagler, Indian River, St. Johns, Collier, Duval, and Nassau Counties exceeded the daily maximum standard. 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.

Florida Percent of Samples Exceeding the State's Daily Maximum Bacterial Standard for 17 Beaches Reported 2008-2012*

    * Please note that only samples from a common set of beaches monitored each year from 2008-2012 are included in the bar chart.

    What Are Florida's Sampling Practices?

    Monitoring occurs year-round, but the peak season is from April to mid-September. In 2011, Florida eliminated state funding for beachwater quality monitoring, and the program is now funded only by the federal BEACH Act grant. However, in 2012, several county health departments used their own funds to conduct increased sampling beyond the program baseline.

    The beachwater quality monitoring program is administered by the Florida DOH, which determines sampling practices, locations, standards, and notification protocols and practices throughout the state. Samples are collected 18 inches below the surface in water that is approximately 36 inches deep, usually in the morning. Beaches are prioritized for monitoring on a county-by-county basis. Priority for monitoring is given to beaches that are more heavily used, that have potential pollution sources nearby, and that are affected by stormwater runoff. While this ensures that the most critical beaches in each county are monitored, there are a wide variety of beach characteristics in Florida, and beaches chosen for monitoring in one county may not be as important as those left unmonitored in another county.

    Sampling frequency does not increase after an advisory is issued.

    How Many Beach Closings and Advisories Were Issued in 2012?2

    Total advisory days for 232 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less increased 22% to 2,328 days in 2012 from 1,915 days in 2011. In previous years there were 3,052 days in 2010, 2,201 days in 2009, 2,067 days in 2008, 3,139 days in 2007, 2,686 days in 2006, and 2,991 days in 2005. In addition, in 2012 there were 6 extended events (378 days total) and 1 permanent event (113 days total). 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. For the 232 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less, 100% (2,328) of advisory days were due to monitoring that revealed elevated bacteria levels.

    How Does Florida Determine When to Warn Visitors About Swimming?

    The DOH does not have authority to close Florida beaches; advisories are issued instead. Near-real-time data are posted on the Healthy Beaches web page; in addition, when there is an advisory, signs are posted at the beach and the media is alerted.

    Florida applies the U.S. EPA’s marine designated beach area criterion for enterococcus: a single-sample maximum of 104 cfu/100 ml; for beaches that are sampled at least weekly, a 5-week geometric mean of 35 cfu/100 ml may also be used. In the past, Florida also applied a fecal coliform single-sample maximum standard of 400 cfu/100 ml. However, the state stopped using the fecal coliform standard when state funding was eliminated in July 2011. Some counties are subsidizing their beach monitoring and are continuing to monitor for fecal coliform and to apply the 400 cfu/100 ml standard.

    In most coastal counties, officials issue an advisory if a standard is exceeded. However, if the county can conduct follow-up sampling within the same week, the beach may be resampled before an advisory is issued. If the resample confirms an exceedance, an advisory is issued.

    Pinellas County has a preemptive rainfall standard for two of its marine beaches: Maximo and North Shore. Maximo Beach’s standard is 0.8 inch within a 24-hour period, and North Shore Beach’s standard is 1 inch within a 24-hour period. Martin County has a preemptive standard based on turbidity. Most counties will warn against swimming after a sewage spill until sampling results are satisfactory. After a hurricane or tropical storm makes landfall, precautionary advisories are issued.

    Additionally, Florida tracks the presence of harmful algal blooms in marine water and freshwater and reports findings on line.

    Florida 2012 Monitoring Results and Closing/Advisory Days3

    Assigned Monitoring Frequency
    Total Samples
    % of samples exceeding
    state standards
    Closing or Advisory days
      NOTE: Data and state-specific information for this summary were collected from U.S. EPA, direct conversations with beach managers in the state, state grant reports to U.S. EPA for BEACH Act funding, and the state water quality website. The information in this state summary reflects current data as of June 7, 2013.
    1. If the 2012 percent exceedance values in this summary don't match, why not? The value at the top of the page reflects the proportion of samples exceeding the national single-sample maximum standard for designated beach areas. The values in the "What Does Beach Monitoring Show?" section reflect the proportion of samples exceeding the state standard, which in some states is more or less stringent than the national designated beach standard. Additionally, only samples from a common set of beaches monitored each year from 2008-2012 are included in the bar chart. Because some beaches were not monitored in each of those years, the percent exceedance for this subset of beaches may not have the same value as the percent exceedance for all of the beaches monitored in 2012.
    2. Year-to-year changes in closing/advisory days should not necessarily be interpreted as an indication of the level of bacterial contamination. In some states and localities, the number of beaches and/or beach monitoring frequency may not be consistent from one year to the next, and beaches may be closed or under a swimming advisory for reasons other than known or suspected bacterial contamination. Other reasons include, but are not limited to, chemical/oil spills, medical waste washing up on shore, dangerous currents, lack of lifeguards, etc. In addition, because NRDC's totals of closing/advisory events focus on those events lasting six consecutive weeks or less, those tallies do not account for longer-duration closings or advisories. For trends in water quality, please refer to NRDC's year-to-year comparison of percent exceedance rates of state water quality standards.
    3. Reported closing or advisory days are for events lasting six consecutive weeks or less. Days in parentheses are for events lasting more than six consecutive weeks.


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