MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – Starting May 1, the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control will take ocean water samples each week to monitor bacteria levels and issue swim advisories when necessary.
Officials with DHEC want the public to know swim advisories shouldn’t deter people from enjoying the beach, as bacteria levels can elevate when it rains.
"We are here to monitor the water quality, to notify the public that there may be a water quality issue so that they can make informed decisions,” said Sean Torrens, an environmental health manager.
DHEC monitors the levels from May 1 to Oct. 1.
"We do not close beaches. We’re purely putting an advisory out to the public letting them know there is a water quality issue at that location. It is usually very short term,” said Torrens.
DHEC samples ocean water at 123 sites between Cherry Grove and Hilton Head. The sites in the Myrtle Beach area are sampled each week.
When samples are taken, enterococcus bacteria is tested, which, according to DHEC, is found in warm-blooded animals, including humans. Officials said high levels of bacteria may indicate the presence of other organisms that could potentially cause gastrointestinal illness.
There are two types of swim advisories: temporary and long-term, and officials said a swim advisory does not mean the beach is closed.
According to DHEC, it’s considered safe to enter the ocean if a swim advisory is in effect, but swimmers should avoid swallowing water.
Long-term advisories are issued at sites where samples are taken, “where more than 10 percent of data collected for the past five years exceeds the recreational use standard for enterococcus bacteria,” according to DHEC.
Those long-term advisory locations are reassessed every year. This year, there are 15 such advisories in effect in South Carolina.
Coastal Carolina University staff also tests ocean water in the Myrtle Beach area. DHEC said CCU reports that data to them for informational purposes and for use in the advisory program between May and October.
"We want to be able to use that data point as a source to notify the public when it becomes available. Plus, we’re only sampling once a week. Coastal always samples theirs on a different day so we’re not always sampling at the same time,” said Torrens.
DHEC said temporary advisories only last one or two days and are lifted when bacteria levels return to normal.
"Our whole point here is monitoring and notification. We’re just trying to tell the folks, ‘Be aware of the water quality you’re swimming in; come enjoy the beach.’ We swim in it. We have family. We live here too,” said Torrens.
For more information on DHEC’s beach monitoring program, click here.