Beach water quality

Past monitoring program

Moreton Bay Regional Council monitored water quality at popular swimming beaches in the region from 2010 to 2016 on a weekly basis from October to March (peak swimming season). 

Runoff from urban, agricultural and industrial areas (stormwater) can contaminate beaches, particularly after rainfall. This is a potential health risk to people during whole body contact (primary contact) activities, such as swimming, diving and surfing and incidental contact (secondary contact) activities, such as boating, fishing and wading. 

What was tested?

The program tested for faecal matter contamination using a microbial indicator called Enterococci. If the Enterococci levels in a waterway are high, this indicates that there may be some form of faecal pollution, potentially from a variety of animal and/or human sources. This translates to a risk of infection.

What is being done now?

Water quality guidelines

The results are measured against The Guidelines for Managing Risks in Recreational Water (NHMRC 2008)  [PDF 1.3MB].

The guidelines are designed to be compared against the 95th percentile of the values of a range of samples taken at the location. This means that when 100 samples are collected at a point, then 95 of them should meet the guideline for the water to be considered a low risk for recreation.

The guidelines also require that sanitary inspections are conducted for each site which considers potential sources of contamination such as animals, stormwater and sewage. 

Council is currently analysing the data to provide a classification of recreational water quality for each site. The classifications will be reviewed annually.

What are the health risks?

In polluted waters, swimmers may be exposed to pathogens, which can easily enter the ears, eyes, nose and mouth. The skin is also directly exposed to infectious agents through swimming, playing or working in polluted waters.

This exposure can lead to a variety of health problems including gastroenteritis, urinary tract infections, flu-like illnesses, dermatitis, ear, nose and throat infections, sinusitis and deep tissue or blood infections through open wounds.

The number of pathogens required to cause infections varies widely between micro-organisms and the general health of an individual. Children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems appear to be at greater risk. Visitors without prior immunity may also be at higher risk than the local population.

General warnings for safe swimming

  • Avoid swimming near stormwater drains
  • Avoid swimming at beaches during and at least one day after heavy rain in open waterways and beaches, and for at least three days within confined bays and estuaries due to the possibility of pollution from stormwater drains
  • Avoid swimming if you see signs of pollution such as discoloured water, oil, scum litter or debris floating on the water or tide line

For further information regarding the Beach water quality program, contact Council or email  

Healthy waterplay program

The Healthy Waterplay Program is a regional initiative in South East Queensland supported by local governments, water utilities, state government, universities and other relevant organisations. Healthy Waterplay supports regionally consistent monitoring, reporting and management of human health risks in recreational waterways. Learn more about the Healthy Waterplay Program .

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