Call for dirty beaches to be closed

Jeff Sommerfeld
and Justine Nolan

COUNCILS have been urged to declare beaches unsafe for swimming if they record unacceptable levels of dangerous organisms.

Independent tests conducted by The Courier-Mail have backed up Government tests showing some of Queensland's most popular beaches are contaminated by up to five times the safe limit of faecal coliforms.

The coliforms are an indicator of bacteria and viruses that could cause gastrointestinal ailments in humans.

Marine experts said yesterday the contamination was due to local overflows from stormwater and wastewater discharges, resulting in human and other waste ending up on beaches.

University of Queensland senior lecturer in marine botany Bill Dennison said high levels of faecal conforms made waterways unsafe for swimming.

Dr Dennison was co-author of a Moreton Bay study that revealed most of the bay's foreshore and the Brisbane River were unsafe to swim in because of contamination.

He said faecal conforms and turbidity - a condition resulting from the presence of suspended particles in the water that reduce light penetration - were the two major factors in the reduction of areas where people could swim safely.

Dr Dennison said one of the recommendations of the Moreton Bay study was that areas unsuitable for swimming should be designated.

"We have the world's best swimmers in south-east Queensland, yet we can't let them swim in our waterways," he said. "We should set ourselves a goal to be able to swim in all of our waterways."

A recent Courier-Mail spot test found the beach at South Burleigh recorded extremely high concentrations of faecal conforms.

A similar result was found at Burleigh five years ago by the Gold Coast chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.

Executive director Greg Howell said surfers had reported illnesses after surfing near stormwater drains after heavy rains.

"We've tried for years to get it into people's thick heads not to leave rubbish lying around," he said.

Gold Coast City councillor Sue Robbins attributed the high levels of faecal conforms found at Burleigh Heads to the higher-than- normal dog population in the area.

Cr Robbins, chairwoman of council's planning and development south committee, said dog droppings were an ongoing problem at Burleigh and the council had installed bags and bins in parks to encourage owners to pick up their pets' faeces.

"Unless more people start to show a more responsible way of dealing with this problem, there will be fewer and fewer places where they (dog owners) can take them," Cr Robbins said.

She said the council had started an ongoing project to install pollutant traps in all stormwater outlets across the region which filter out larger waste items, including cigarette butts.

Burleigh Heads councillor Paul Gamin said he was "astounded" by the results because a specially designed pollutant trap had been installed at the South Burleigh stormwater drain four years ago.

Cr Gamin said that after heavy rains the first stormwater run-off - which carried a large portion of rubbish - was trapped by a weir, and the area had been tested by council officials with no adverse findings.

The Courier Mail 28 December 1999 page 7

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