Is Hawaii sounding the alarm over safe beaches?
Lately, the state has sent out more water quality warnings, so you might think there have been more pathogens found at our beaches, but that is not the case.
Hawaii is known for its beautiful beaches and inviting waters.
But lately, the State has put up more advisories to keep people out of the water.
The busier the beach, the more often the ocean water is tested to check for harmful pathogens..those are the things that could make us sick.
Lately, the state has sent out more health warnings, so you might think there have been more pathogens found -- but that is not the case.
Hawaii's blue waters may be beautiful, but they could also contain various viruses and potential pathogens, so experts look for certain bacteria to indicate higher risk.
"In years past we would use clostridium and enterococci. 2 indicators, both would have to be high before we made any kind of public notification," said Myron Honda, with the Dept. of Health's Clean Water Branch.
All that changed in 2016, when the Environmental Protection Agency required the state to follow the same guidelines as the mainland: Use only enterococci levels, and any reading over 130 means advisories have to go up.
That has led to a sharp increase in beach warnings and even closures. The latest shutdown of Hanauma Bay had enterococci levels just above the threshold, but barely any clostridium.
"It happens all the time. I collect many samples when enterococci is high but clostridium is not present," said University of Hawaii researcher Marek Kirs.
If the state used the old measuring system, how many times would those beach advisories have gone up?
"Very few," according to Honda.
Now the Department of Health is conducting additional water testing, to see if experts can draw a direct correlation between higher levels of harmful pathogens and higher levels of both indicator bacteria, not just enterococci.
Part of the problem, with the higher levels, is enterococci can be found not only in the ocean but also in the soil. Where it doesn't just survive but actually thrives in the moist ground.
"A lot of the enterococci we find in the beach, originate from the soils," added Kirs.
Not only can they live in the soil, Kirs says enterococci can live longer than pathogens harmful to humans.
Experts agree: Stay out of the water, if it is brown from runoff after a heavy rain. Because it likely contains pathogens, sewage or worse
But what about when the ocean is clear, the sun is shining and an advisory is still posted?
"If the water is bright blue and the sun is out, it is most likely safe to swim. Bacteria and viruses die quickly in sunlight," stated Kirs.
"Infants, children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. Those people should think twice when we have these elevations. For normal healthy people there is not much of a risk," added Honda.
The EPA change has also meant more work for those taking and testing the samples. Because if numbers are higher, they are required to take another sample each day -- until the numbers come down.
If you would like to check on the latest water advisories head to the state's Clean Water Branch website at https://eha-cloud.doh.hawaii.gov/cwb/#!/landing