Don't Go Out of the Water
By Aaron Smith
Published Jul 1, 2006 12:00 AM
A small stretch of shoreline in Marina del Rey is known as Mother's Beach because it offers gentle waves and a shallow swimming area — a serene, safe environment for parents to bring their kids. Serene? Yes. Safe? Well, maybe not as much as we'd like it to be.
It turns out that the kid-friendly conditions at Mother's Beach and other similarly sheltered beaches in Southern California might be just as appealing to some potentially harmful bacteria. That not-so-sunny news arrives in the form of a recent study by researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science that tested the sediments in the surf (the hard-packed sand under the frothy, churned-up water at the beach’s edge).
The study found levels of fecal indicator bacteria — routinely used to determine the quality of water at beaches because it is both a proxy and a source for other microorganisms that can pose serious health risks — were much higher at sheltered beaches such as Mother's, Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro, Santa Monica Beach by the pier, and Topanga Beach in Malibu, than at beaches open to the ocean such as Dockweiler, Malibu's Surfrider and Manhattan Beach.
Local health officials monitor water quality by testing for fecal indicator bacteria daily. But they don't sample the surf — where people, particularly kids, tend to spend more time. The study raises the uneasy possibility that the water could be declared safe for swimming, while unhealthy bacteria remain in the surf.
UCLA Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Jennifer Jay, who conducted the study with graduate student researcher Christine Lee, says parents shouldn't panic yet because the research, while it poses troubling questions, doesn't make a direct link between the bacteria and health issues. Jay's team plans a second study this month, pending funding.
In the meantime, Jay, the mother of 2-year-old twins, says, "I take my kids to the beach all the time. But I haven't taken them to the enclosed beaches."