Surf’s up again along the beaches of the central coast after last week’s heavy rains swept contaminants into the ocean water, making it unsafe for swimmers.
After the recent storms, Santa Barbara County Environmental Health Services posted warnings of high levels of bacteria for certain beaches, advising swimmers to avoid creek mouths and storm drains in the ocean for at least 72 hours once the rains subsided. David Brummond, supervising environmental specialist for Environmental Health Services, said water toxicity levels along central coast beaches — including Goleta Beach, Sands Beach and Coal Oil Point, were 10 times the recommended level for fecal coliform and Enterococcus. He said the water’s toxicity level has decreased in the past few days.
“Salt water, in addition to sunlight, usually kills bacteria off; a couple of days is usually long enough, and most of the beaches now meet standards,” Brummond said.
However, Brummond said, after storms, the murkiness of the water — caused by the high levels of pollutants — makes it harder for the sunlight to penetrate the surface and kill the bacteria. He said this may increase the time it takes for the bacteria to return to safe levels.
Scott Bull, grants manager for Shoreline Preservation Fund and member of the Isla Vista chapter of Surfrider, said the high bacteria levels are caused by rainwater washing inland pollution into to the ocean.
“There are multiple sources of contamination,” Bull said. “Just up north along the Gaviota coast, there are lots of agriculture and cows, which contributes to the problem of E. Coli when it washes down here.”
Bull said the recent rain also created another significant contamination problem near Isla Vista when water from the Devereux slough made its way into the ocean.
“During the last storm, the Devereux estuary was breached, which also added to a higher toxicity of bacteria. The birds use this slough for nesting and the stagnant water has higher levels of bacteria than found in the ocean or in creeks.”
Despite the county’s declaration that it is safe to go back into the water, some surfers are still seeing the after-effects of the heavy storms.
Local surfer and senior aquatic biology major Dashiell Dunkell said he noticed some irregularities in the ocean when he went surfing earlier this week.
“Even today, the water has a kind of funky smell, and it tastes weird,” Dunkell said.
Dunkell said he thinks bacteria is not the only substance contaminating the ocean water.
“I live on Del Playa, and all the trash that’s on the street washes right out here,” he said.
Brian Baxter, a junior environmental science major at CSU Channel Islands said he also felt ill after swimming in the ocean after the storms.
“I’ve had sore throats and stuff like that, especially during El Ni