Turning Passion into Protection: Citizen Science at the Beach with the Surfrider Foundation

Heading to the beach this weekend? Consider citizen science at the beach by engaging in water quality testing with the Surfrider Foundation. The Surfrider Foundation is a grassroots environmental organization whose mission is to protect and enjoy the world’s ocean, waves, and beaches.

Surfrider volunteers work in their communities across the country testing the water to provide more information to inform safe beach recreation. The Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) is the Surfrider Foundation’s volunteer-run water testing program. Operating within a national network of over 50 labs, BWTF groups provide critical water quality information to protect public health and clean water through the analysis of samples collected by citizen scientists. BWTF labs test for enterococcus, a fecal bacteria that lives in the gut of warm-blooded animals. When enterococcus is found in the water, it indicates that other harmful pathogens may be present that could make you or your pet sick. There may be a BWTF chapter near you!

Citizen Science at the Beach
Map provided by the Surfrider Foundation

The Surfrider Foundation is proud to have eighteen BWTF Labs hosted on SciStarter, providing an avenue for these volunteer-run labs to easily engage citizen scientists in hands-on water quality testing in their local communities. Visit the Blue Water Task Force website to see if there is a Surfrider lab near you. If there is, you can contact chenn@surfrider.org if you are interested in getting involved. Like most citizen science programs, Surfrider is always looking for volunteers to help in routine sample collection. All training is provided. No experience necessary; all you need is a willingness to help out and commit to a regular sampling schedule.

We know you’re ready to dive in and start your fun-filled weekend, but before you go, it’s important to check local water quality conditions and swim advisories to protect your health and the health of your family. To make it easier, the Surfrider Foundation has just released a new on-line tool which directs viewers to the most local source of water quality information for coastal beaches across the United States using BWTF and other data. Click here to access this resource and search for beach information and advisories by state.

Earlier this spring, the Surfrider Foundation released its Annual Clean Water Report which tracks the progress of the organization’s clean water programs during 2018.  Through their Blue Water Task Force program, Surfrider volunteers processed 6,826 water samples nationwide collected from 474 distinct sampling sites including ocean and bay beaches, estuaries and freshwater systems. All water test results were compared to national water quality standards set by the EPA to protect public health in recreational waters.

Citizen Science at the Beach
Chart provided by the Surfrider Foundation

Similar to previous years, the majority of Surfrider’s samples that failed to meet health standards were collected from freshwater sources such as rivers, creeks, and marshes that are influenced by stormwater runoff or at beaches near these outlets. This is consistent with national trends, which show that stormwater runoff is the number one cause of beach closures and swimming advisories in the United States.

Citizen Science at the Beach
Ally Senturk, Surfrider Foundation’s Blue Water Task Force Coordinator for the San Diego Chapter, collecting a water sample from the border of San Diego and Mexico.

To address the issues causing this problem, the Surfrider Foundation also runs an Ocean Friendly Gardens program to provide upstream solutions to the water quality problems that are detected at the beach. Through this program, Surfrider volunteers are transforming people’s yards and public spaces into Ocean Friendly Gardens that soak up rain and filter polluted runoff. These gardens also help conserve water, create wildlife habitat, and can even reduce the impacts of climate change by absorbing carbon from the air and storing it in the soil.

The 2018 Annual Clean Water also includes four case studies highlighting how Surfrider chapters empower their local communities to stay informed of their local water quality issues and to address challenging pollution problems such as toxic algae blooms and border sewage pollution. You may even be visiting one of these popular beaches this weekend!

Our 2018 Clean Water Report summarizes what the Surfrider Foundation volunteers and activists are doing in coastal communities around the country to protect public health and clean water at the beach. If this makes you want to get involved in making our beaches safer, you can learn more from the Surfrider Foundation about actions you can take at home to protect clean water within your own community.

Our network of citizen scientists turns passion into protection.

Categories: Chemistry, Citizen Science, Ecology & Environment, Project Profile

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About the Author

Mara Dias

Mara Dias

Mara Dias is the Surfrider Foundation's Water Quality Manager, who leads Surfrider's Clean Water Initiative. Within the Clean Water initiative are the Blue Water Task Force, Surfrider's citizen science water quality monitoring program, and Ocean Friendly Gardens, Surfrider's educational landscaping program that aims to reduce water quality issues caused by urban runoff. Mara is active in securing federal funding for agency-run water testing programs through the EPA BEACH Act while also providing Surfrider Chapters the support to solve pollution problems on a grassroots level.