Miami Chapter

Blue Water Task Force

Surfrider Foundation Miami Chapter volunteer water quality monitoring program


Surfrider’s Clean Water Initiative strives to protect water quality in local waterways and reduce pollution so it is safe to surf, swim and play in the ocean. To meet this goal, Surfrider chapters and activists are building awareness of water pollution problems and advocating for solutions to protect public health and clean water.

Everyone should have access to clean water to surf, swim and play in.

The Surfrider Foundation Miami Chapter is taking a multi-tiered approach to tackle ocean pollution problems. We are testing the waters for bacteria, raising public awareness and finding real solutions to ocean pollution; solutions that restore healthy watersheds, protect local water supplies and keep pollution from reaching the ocean.

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Among a number of sources, water quality at the beach is threatened by pollution from urban and agricultural runoff, sewage spills and overflows, and waste discharged into the ocean by industry, and sewage treatment plants. The urbanization of our coasts has also altered and polluted the natural water cycle, allowing polluted runoff to go straight towards the ocean. Rooftops, pavement and other impervious surfaces in urban and residential areas not only prevent rain from soaking into the ground but also direct polluted runoff straight towards the ocean. At the same time, we are wasting valuable fresh water by using it once, mixing it with our waste, and then discharging it, partially treated, into the ocean. This is threatening the long-term security of our water supply and polluting our coastal waters. All of this contributes to the reason that over $2.9 billion in public health is spent from exposure to polluted recreational waters, and 20,000 beach closures are experienced annually. It’s unacceptable that a day at the beach could result in stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections or worse.

As part of the Clean Water Initiative, the Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) is the Surfrider Foundation’s volunteer-run, water testing, education and advocacy program.  Surfrider Chapters across the country use this program to alert citizens and officials in their communities about water quality problems and to work toward solutions. The BWTF has demonstrated success by identifying problems with beach and coastal water pollution, raising public awareness of these incidents and working collaboratively with local stakeholders to find and implement pollution solutions.

The BWTF has also precipitated the establishment of state and local government water quality monitoring programs in many communities and continues to fill in data gaps, improving the public's knowledge of the safety of their beach water.  BWTF water testing programs measure bacteria levels at both marine and freshwater beaches and compare them to federal water quality standards established by the EPA to protect public health in recreational waters.

In operating a marine centric water quality monitoring program, the main goal of the Surfrider Miami BWTF program is to fill in data gaps, improving the public’s knowledge of the safety of their beach water. As of 2018, water samples have been collected weekly at 5 locations, from South Point to Surfside Beach. These initial sites are also included in the Florida Department of Health’s Florida Healthy Beaches Program and the chapter’s BWTF results have been designed to increase the frequency of beach water testing at these popular local beaches, to develop a foundation of quality operations that achieve established standards and protocols, and to provide the community useful information about the current health of the waters that we swim and play in.

Surfrider Miami’s BWTF is in operation year-round, providing public health protection especially in the offseason when health departments reduce their testing frequency, while surfers and other local constituents continue to surf and be exposed to potentially polluted water.

Surfrider Miami’s BWTF is in operation year-round, providing public health protection especially in the offseason when health departments reduce their testing frequency, while surfers and other local constituents continue to surf and be exposed to potentially polluted water.

At the lab, which is hosted by F1rst Surf Supply Company on South Beach, we are testing for enterococci which are considered to be indicator bacteria for other bad bugs that might be in the water. Pretty much if entero is found in the water, this indicates that other waterborne pathogens might be present - particularly since entro is mainly found in mammalian digestive tracts and signals that fecal matter is in the water (from sources such as urban runoff, pet waste, vessel discharges, septic tank leaks, and sewer system discharges).

Results are shared with the local community (sign up here to receive water quality notifications) and are now live on Miami's reports and our Alexa App! Additionally, we have partnered with Ballyhoo Media to display water quality results on their floating platform which reaches about 10,000-15,000 beach goers an hour and have also partnered with the Swimguide to host our water quality information on their dedicated mobile app.

We are seeking volunteers to join our BWTF team, to spread the workload of this citizen science project. Team members are needed to: collect beach water samples; process water samples in our SoBe BWTF lab; distribute weekly test results via social media, newsletters and podcasts. To join the BWTF team, contact the lab director Scott Stripling:

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Partners and Supporters

Frequently Asked Questions Florida Healthy Beaches Program Volunteer / Lab Schedule Sampling and Lab Data Sheet Surfrider Miami Lab Report Submission Surfrider National Lab Report Submission Surfrider Miami Volunteer Sampling / Lab Handbook Lab Expense Reimbursement Form Water Sampling Instructions BWTF Lab Instructions for IDEXX Quantitray/Enterolert method MPN Table for the Quantitray Sealer How-to videos posted by IDEXX for using the Quantitray Method with Enterolert Video demonstrations of Water Sampling Technique & Water Sample Preparation in the lab BWTF Manual circa 2003 Why we test for Enterococci Beach Signs and Public Notices of Beach Closures & Swimming Advisories Source Tracking Guides for Bacterial Pollution For more, see our Blue Water Task Force page on Beachapedia. 

For questions or join the BWTF team, contact team leader Scott Stripling:
To report getting sick at the beach submit a report: Ocean Illness Form  

For questions or join the BWTF team, contact team leader Scott Stripling:

To report getting sick at the beach submit a report: Ocean Illness Form  

Sign up to receive weekly water quality notifications: Alert Mailing List

Have you ever gotten sick after visiting the beach?

Now there’s a place to share your story and see where others are getting sick.

Surfrider has created a crowd-sourced illness reporting tool which can be found here ( This data will help with tracking ocean related illnesses and informing local health departments who otherwise would have no idea about the harm caused by water pollution.

With this tool, anyone can easily provide basic info about how and where they got sick, allowing others to see where pollution hotspots are.  There is even a tool for setting up alerts, so that you can receive an email when someone reports an illness in your area.  As part of Surfrider’s Clean Water Program this new tool adds an additional layer to our efforts to alert the public to water quality problems and the risks of exposure to bacteria in the surf.

Please share this new tool with your friends, or anyone who may have been exposed to polluted water, because a day at the beach shouldn't have to make you sick.

As reported in The Inertia:

Have you ever gotten sick after a surf session or a day at the beach?  Water pollution near many local surf spots can cause numerous illnesses and even long-term health issues such as the one experienced by Chris Schumacher, who acquired a soil-borne bacterial infection from storm runoff while surfing and almost lost his eye.

Polluted waters often contain many different disease-causing organisms (commonly referred to as pathogens) and surfers and swimmers are affected by both sewage-polluted water, which contains enteric pathogens (pathogens that live in human and animal digestive systems), and pathogens carried by urban runoff. The contraction of waterborne illnesses from these pathogens is often spread by the presence of these organisms in the water and inadvertent ingestion of the fecal or otherwise contaminated water. This can give a whole new meaning to having a “sick” surfing session.

Polluted beach water has been known to cause gastrointestinal illnesses such as the stomach flu, diarrhea, and vomiting, skin rashes, pinkeye, ear infections, meningitis, hepatitis A, encephalitis, staph infections (such as MRSA), parasitic illnesses caused cryptosporidiosis and leptospirosis, and even bizarre disease such as skin lesions. Viruses are often the cause of swimming-associated diseases and typically result in the majority of cases of gastroenteritis (“stomach flu”), hepatitis A, respiratory illnesses, infections of the ear, nose, and throat. Gastroenteritis, which may also be caused by waterborne bacteria, can cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, stomach aches, nausea, headaches, and febrile (feverish) symptoms. Other types of microbial disease that can be contracted by watermen/women and beachgoers include salmonellosis, shigellosis, infection caused by E. coli as well as other infections caused by amoeba, protozoa, and parasites in recreational waters which can cause giardiasis, cryptosporidiosis, amoebic dysentery, skin rashes, and pink eye. Urban runoff provides a whole new dimension as well through a “toxic cocktail” of herbicides, pesticides, heavy metals, and other pollutants that may not be regulated or monitored by your public health department and they also cause health effects that are not fully understood.

Epidemiological studies, such as The Beaches Study have found that “bathing in temperate recreational waters with known point sources of faecal contamination (such as domestic sewage or storm-drain runoff) has been associated with an increased risk for transmission of infectious diseases (including gastroenteritis, and febrile, respiratory, skin, eye and ear illnesses).” Individuals who enjoy high-exposure activities, aka surfers, are at greater risk of acquiring an infection since they are typically in the water for extended periods of time, have a higher number of head immersions, and subsequently, ingest more water that the average beachgoer.

According to an intense systematic review and meta-analysis published in the International Journal of Epidemiology on February 28, 2018 there is an 86% increased risk (odds ratio of 1.86) of experiencing symptoms of illness from waterborne pathogens from recreational activities in marine waters. The study, which was the first systematic review to evaluate evidence on the increased risk of acquiring illnesses from bathing in seawater compared with non-bathers found that bathers in coastal waters have a greater risk of experiencing a variety of illnesses from being in the water. So, if you get sick after surfing, there is a solid chance that it was from polluted water.

Many states and local municipalities have established ocean water monitoring programs, but these testing programs only consist of infrequent or limited testing testing during times of high usage which may include total coliform, fecal coliform, and enterococcus at marine beaches and E coli in fresh water. Testing for viruses, hydrocarbons, herbicides and pesticides, fertilizers, heavy metals, and other pollutants is rarely performed. Traditionally, the monitoring of microbial water quality for coastal waters used for recreational purposes (ie. beaches) has been regulated by measuring the concentrations of indicator microbes related to enteric pathogens that are found in the water. These microbes are typically found in human feces in high concentrations and are typically not pathogenic themselves, but indicate the presence of pathogenic bacteria.

While the these kinds of initiatives are essential for ensuring public health, the funding for water quality testing at the governmental level is constantly under threat (budgets for these programs in the state of Florida alone have been cut by over 40% in recent years), often inefficient, are full of data gaps to fully inform and protect the public, and rarely collect enough information about where and when individuals are getting sick from contact with polluted water and sewage discharge. In combination with widespread budget cuts, the costs of conducting water quality monitoring programs restricts the ability for the agencies responsible for monitoring beaches to testing at limited number of locations during periods of high use. As a result, the work that is being done to protect the health of the public at these locations by monitoring fecal indicator organisms (FIOs), often on a one day per week/month basis, is highly ineffective given the spatial and temporal fluctuations that occur naturally in coastal marine areas and the results are unlikely to capture high levels of pollution that occur between the government’s sampling. Studies have even shown that at beaches with good water quality and low numbers of indicator bacteria, bathers were still at an increased risk of experiencing gastrointestinal illness, respiratory infections, and eye and ear infections. In addition to that, acquired illnesses are rarely reported as the average time for recreational bathers to the onset of symptoms was six to seven days for gastrointestinal illness, four days for skin illnesses, five to six days for eye-illnesses, and three to four days for ear illnesses according to the Beaches Study.

As a result, local chapters of the Surfrider Foundation have been starting Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) Programs – which are essentially volunteer-run, water testing, education and advocacy programs focused on improving local water quality and alerting the local community about water pollution and discharge events that make it unsafe to surf. Surfrider chapters have been using this program to alert citizens and local officials about water quality problems and work toward solutions.

In places such as Miami, the Surfrider Foundation Miami Chapter became concerned enough about the local water quality to build a lab and to is now testing local beaches weekly by collecting water samples from the local beaches and surfing areas to augment the infrequent testing conducted by the City and the Florida Healthy Beaches Program. Results are then shared with the local community as the main goal of the BWTF is to fill in data gaps, improving the public’s knowledge of the safety of their beach water. BWTF water testing programs, such as the one in Miami, do this by measuring bacteria levels at marine beaches and comparing them to federal and state water quality standards established by the EPA to protect public health in recreational waters.

To prevent getting sick, the EPA recommends that you:
-Avoid swimming near stormwater or other pipes.
-Observe any beach closure, advisory, or safety hazards signs.
-In areas that are not monitored regularly, choose swimming sites in less developed areas with good water circulation, such as beaches at the ocean.
-Avoid swimming or surfing at beaches where you can see discharge pipes or at urban beaches after a heavy rainfall.

Additionally, the Surfrider Foundation, along with a number of county and state health departments, advised the public never to swim or surf within 3 days (72 hours) after a rain. During these periods, the coastal waters are polluted with urban runoff and may also contain sewage from leaking sewer pipes, overflowing sewer manholes, and combined sewer outfalls (CSOs). In most places, especially heavily urbanized areas like Southern California, New York, and Miami, ocean water quality after a rain typically has high concentrations of bacteria and may also have high concentrations of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, heavy metals, and petroleum products. Unfortunately, many locations do not post physical notifications or signages after rain and communication about water pollution can be delayed up to a week after it has been identified. The Surfrider Foundation’s website states that the Orange County Health Care Agency has been quoted as saying, “We just assume all surfers know that the water is polluted after it rains.” It’s always a good idea to check with your local Blue Water Task Force (many have automatic water quality alerts that you can sign up for) and/or public health department before heading out into the water.

Note: If you feel you have gotten sick after exposure to polluted ocean water, you can report it at Surfrider’s Ocean Illness Reporting Tool.