Blue Water Task Force

Photo Credit: Andrew Shield

Surfrider Foundation Australia (SFA) was founded to protest poor coastal water quality. We strive to reduce marine pollution so it is safe to surf, swim and play in our oceans. To meet this goal, SFA and our volunteers are building awareness of water quality issues advocating for solutions that protect and maintain clean water in our coastal ecosystems.

Coastal water quality has never been more importance in the face of growing threats from climate change. Rising sea levels and more frequent extreme weather events can cause sewage to overflow into our waterways and oceans. Identifying the source and extent of the problem is needed to ensure our coastal communities become more resilient and better able to manage their water resources.

SFA is taking a multi-tiered approach to tackle ocean pollution problems. Through the Blue Water Task Force, we aim to ensure that people have access to the information they need to protect themselves and the health of their families when recreating at the beach and in our coastal waterways. We also advocate for stronger laws and sufficient funding to monitor and protect water quality.

Blue Water Task Force

The Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) is Surfrider’s volunteer led water quality program. Operating through a global network of over 50 Surfrider branches, the program provides critical water quality information to protect public health at the beach.

The Gold Coast branch is leading the roll-out of the program in Australia. Following major flooding in 2022, the Gold Coast experienced extended poor water quality that led to significant public health concerns for surfers in the region.

The BWTF helps to raise awareness of local pollution problems and unite communities to implement solutions. Test results are compared to state water quality standards and posted on Surfrider’s website. Water quality data is also shared through social media, email and community presentations to provide beachgoers with the information that they need to know where it’s safe to surf, swim and play in the water. When our BWTF results demonstrate long-term or seasonal trends of elevated bacteria levels, we will look to build community awareness and motivate local decision-makers to take action and fix the sources of pollution.

Learn More about our Blue Water Task Force today!

Be the first to know what’s happening in our local water quality report.

Why Water Testing Is Important

Sewage spills and failing wastewater infrastructure threaten coastal water quality by discharging raw and undertreated sewage into local waterways and the ocean.

Sewage can contain bacteria, viruses and parasites that cause gastrointestinal and flu-like symptoms, rashes, skin and eye infections. Contaminated water can also lead to more serious health complications. Sewage and stormwater runoff also pollute waterways with excess nutrients that wreak havoc on coastal ecosystems by fueling harmful algal blooms that endanger human health and result in fish kills and coral reef die-offs.

The BWTF measures faecal indicator bacteria levels in recreational waters and compares those results to state water quality standards. The program fills data gaps and extends the coverage of council and state-run monitoring programs by sampling beaches and potential sources of pollution such as stormwater outlets.

The BWTF also has educational benefits that motivate the community to care for our coasts. It exposes volunteers and students to environmental science and local water pollution problems. Creating greater public awareness of the issue is essential to bring together local stakeholders and build community support for action. Volunteers become advocates for the beaches and catchments they monitor, pushing for policy reform in their communities and inspiring people to make changes at their schools, homes and businesses. 

What We Test For

Water tests performed by the BWTF measure the amount of enterococcus bacteria in a water sample. Enterococcus bacteria are bacteria that indicate faecal pollution (human or animal waste) and other pathogens that are also found in faecal matter that can make people sick. The higher the level of the faecal-indicating bacteria enterococcus, the higher the risk of other illness-causing pathogens being present in the water. Learn more about the health risks from swimming in water tainted with human sewage or animal waste here.

While not harmful on their own account, enterococcus are a type of faecal bacteria that can indicate the presence of more dangerous microorganisms and viruses. Faecal bacteria are found primarily in the intestinal tracts of mammals and birds, and are released into the environment through human and animal faeces. Faecal pollution at beaches could come from pets and wildlife, stormwater runoff, and human sources of sewage – such as sewer overflows and failing septic and sewage infrastructure. Read more about indicator bacteria, why we test for them, and how to identify sources of pollution in this Beachapedia article about bacterial pollution.

Bacteria test results are compared to national water quality guidelines set by the Australian Government through the Guidelines for Managing Risks in Recreational Waters. Similar data is used by state and local government across Australia to issue swim advisories and make decisions to close beaches to protect public health.

How To Get Involved

To learn more about BWTF or to become a volunteer at our program on the Gold Coast, sign-up below. If you have any questions, please email us at bluewatertaskforce@surfrider.org.au

Principal Sponsor – Babich Wines

Our Blue Water Task Force is made possible by the generous support of Babich Wines. Babich Wines have partnered with Surfrider to help purchase the equipment needed to undertake water testing.

This August, September and October Babich will be donating $1 for every bottle sold to Surfrider Foundation Australia.
Do our beaches a favour and pick up a bottle (or two!) of their award-winning wine.