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Entero, cocci! Behind the Maine Healthy Beaches Initiative

This morning, some visiting extended family members and I took a trip to the little-known pocket beach called Goodies Beach in Rockport, Maine. It was a sunny day, the water was warm enough to swim in with a bit of pluck, and we were all having a blast noodling about with buckets, shovels, splashes, hermit crabs and the rising tide that swamps all castles. A nice older fellow came by in his rowboat and gave the kids some rides.

We had quite a time day until someone came hustling up to us from the harbormaster’s house next door. “I hate to tell you this,” a very nice young man told us, “and really I’m even on my day off, but you probably shouldn’t be swimming on this beach today. It might be contaminated from runoff.”

I was a bit perplexed, because I’d seen a sign on entrance to the beach declaring it to be open for use. I’d also checked the Maine Healthy Beaches Initiative website for Goodies Beach earlier and had seen this update:

Goodies Beach status update for July 12, 2010

But the nice guy from the harbormaster’s house explained that even though updates are posted for beaches every day on the Maine Healthy Beaches website, actual water samples for the beaches are only collected once a week. And by gum, when I came back home and clicked through on “monitoring data,” I found he was right:

Water samples from Goodies Beach in Rockport Maine for 2010 and 2009

I’ll have to wait until later this week to figure out if the water today was all right.

“See, it rained yesterday,” explained the nice young man who ran down to us, “and there was a law that got passed a while back to have people fix the runoff from their septic systems up the hill. But some of them still are a bit, well, they’re maybe not right. When it rains hard like it did yesterday, sometimes you get a bit of a wash into the harbor. So it’s not official, but I’d be careful. There’s a hose up at the harbormaster’s, and a sink, if that would help.”

It did help, and I’m grateful for the advice from the friendly harbormaster’s staff (and nobody’s puking, at least not yet). Today’s experience reinforces a lesson that I abide by in principle but need to implement better in practice: when it really matters, don’t be satisfied with aggregated indications of data. When something’s on the line, I should check at the raw data myself if I can.

3 thoughts on “Entero, cocci! Behind the Maine Healthy Beaches Initiative”

  1. Jim says:

    Update: Turns out that nice young fella’s intuition was right: when data was collected on 7/13, the enterococci count had shot up.

  2. F.G. Fitzer says:

    Mmmmmmmm. Yummy consequences of a home at the seaside.

  3. R. W. Brown says:

    When high counts are consistently found in the same vicinity, who’s responsible for corrective measures

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