Get set for a safer summer swimming season with Beachwatch

For most beachgoers getting ready for a day on the sand means packing sunscreen, hats and towels.

Aerial view of Bondi Beach

But for the Department of Planning Industry and Environment's Beachwatch Program manager, Meredith Campey, there is an extra step. When she and her family head to the ocean, she first checks the state's Beachwatch daily beach pollution forecast to make sure the water is free of pollution.

Do a check, before you get wet

Daily pollution advisories are available for most ocean and estuarine beaches in Sydney, Hunter, Central Coast and the Illawarra on the Beachwatch web page, she says.

"People can check what the water quality will be like before they head to the beach to make sure it's safe for swimming. Exercise and enjoyment of our beaches has many established benefits for health and wellbeing. For me, the beach is all about days out with my family and friends, and I love swimming in the ocean. Beachwatch forecast predicts the likelihood of pollution using rainfall data. It's great to have that information before you arrive at the beach so you can be confident it's going to be suitable for swimming.

Microbe monitoring

Campey's advice to beachgoers comes as the NSW Government releases the 2020-21 State of the Beaches Report. The monitoring of the state's beaches has been undertaken since 1989 and, in 2021, reports on 210 sites that include ocean beaches, estuarine areas (such as beaches in Sydney Harbour), lake and lagoon swimming spots and ocean baths.

"The Beachwatch team together with some of our regional partner councils collect water samples and look at the microbial indicators to see if there's been faecal contamination," says Campey.

State of the Beaches

This year the weather in New South Wales has been heavily influenced by La Nina conditions which have brought heavy rain and floods and impacted on water quality at swimming beaches.

"In 2020-21 swimming sites in New South Wales performed well with 85% of monitored swimming sites graded as Good or Very Good. These sites were suitable for swimming for most or almost all of the time.

While this is an excellent result, it is a slight decline in performance from the previous year. It reflects the wet weather conditions experienced in many coastal areas, including New South Wales's wettest summer since 2012. Many estuarine and lake and lagoon swimming sites did not perform as well as the ocean beaches, being more susceptible to impacts from wet weather conditions."

Coastal beaches more serene and clean

Campey says the cleanest beaches in the state are the ones furthest away from urbanisation and stormwater run-off. They include most of the beaches on the state's north and south coasts, but according to the report, our open ocean beaches have held their own with water quality despite the wet weather.

"The open ocean beaches of New South Wales had excellent water quality in 2020-2021 with 98% of 118 monitored ocean beaches graded as Very Good or Good," says the latest report. "This indicates they were suitable for swimming most or almost all of the time."

Intervention for improvements

Campey says the Beachwatch monitoring also plays an important role in helping detect emerging pollution problems, requiring intervention.

"The report can help us identify where there are issues, and we can provide the information to councils and wastewater managers so they can prioritise where works to improve sewerage infrastructure and reduce storm water run-off to stop the pollution are needed."

It is very pleasing to be able to see the impact of significant water quality improvements as a result of the monitoring program, says Campey.

"We've seen results at some sites changing from poor to good in subsequent years as a result of councils making progress with remediation works in their target areas and that is such a positive outcome for the community."

To check the Beachwatch daily pollution advisories or to read the 2020-2021 State of the Beaches Report, visit the Beachwatch website.