Georgia has 41 public beaches along 118 miles of Atlantic coast and barrier island shores. The Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources administers Georgia's beach monitoring and notification program.
The coast of Georgia experienced moderate to severe drought conditions throughout 2011, and midsummer was a time of exceptional drought. Beachwater quality tends to be better during times of drought, because the flow of contaminated runoff is reduced.
What Does Beachwater Monitoring Show?
In 2011, Georgia reported 41 coastal beaches. Of these, 17 (41%) were assigned a monitoring frequency of once a week and 9 (22%) a frequency of once a month; 15 (37%) were not assigned a monitoring frequency. In 2011, 5% 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 Jekyll Clam Creek (23%) and St. Andrews Picnic Area (Jekyll) (19%) in Glynn County, and Tybee Island Polk St. in Chatham County (11%). Beaches in McIntosh County had the highest exceedance of the state standard (7%) in 2011, followed by Glynn (6%) and Chatham (4%) counties. No beaches in Camden or Liberty counties were monitored. 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 Georgia's Sampling Practices?
Most monitored beaches are sampled year-round. In 2011, beaches that were monitored, but not year-round, were sampled from April through October.
The Coastal Resources Division determines sampling practices, locations, standards, and notification protocols and practices throughout the state. Samples are taken in about 3 feet of water (from wave top) at a depth of 15 to 30 centimeters. Beaches that have large populations nearby, have tourist accommodations, are easily accessible, and have the most amenities are monitored the most frequently.
The monitoring frequency for a beach increases when an exceedance occurs. States that monitor more frequently after an exceedance is found will tend to have higher percent exceedance rates and fewer advisory days than they would if their sampling frequency did not increase after an exceedance was found.
How Many Beach Advisories Were Issued in 2011?
Total advisory days for 33 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less increased 14% to 248 days in 2011 from 217 days in 2010. For prior years, there were 209 days in 2009, 72 days in 2008, 181 days in 2007, 203 days in 2006, and 528 days in 2005. In addition, there were 4 extended events (211 days total) and 1 permanent event (365 days) 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 Georgia Determine When to Warn Visitors About Swimming?
Georgia's beachwater monitoring program issues advisories, not closings. Georgia applies the EPA standard for enterococcus of a single-sample maximum of 104 cfu/100 ml and a 30-day, five-sample geometric mean of 35 cfu/100 ml.
When either the single-sample or geometric mean standard is exceeded, the Coastal Resources Division notifies the Georgia Department of Health and the local beach management entity. Upon receiving this notification, the local entity issues an advisory. There is no protocol for forgoing an advisory when an exceedance is found, and resampling to confirm an exceedance is not done before an advisory is issued.
The state has concluded that its beachwater quality does not appear to correlate strongly with any measured environmental parameters, including rainfall. Thus, Georgia has no preemptive rainfall advisory standards and does not make use of predictive models for issuing beach advisories. However, permanent advisories are issued for beaches that have ongoing water quality issues. For example, Kings Ferry has been under permanent advisory since 2006. The health department can issue a closing in the case of an immediate threat to public health, such as a sewage spill.
A volunteer network monitors phytoplankton in Georgia's estuaries, providing information necessary in the event of a harmful algal bloom.
Georgia 2011 Monitoring Results and Notice and Advisory Days
||Assigned Monitoring Frequency
||% of samples exceeding state standards
||Closing or Advisory days