12 • 11 • 2018

Hilo Chapter Launches BWTF in Hawaii

By Surfrider Foundation

The Surfrider Foundation Hilo Chapter has recently launched their Blue Water Task Force! 

This fall, community members and volunteers came together to select 10 initial sites in the Hilo and Hamakua districts to be included in this new water quality monitoring program on the Island of Hawai’i (Big Island). Similar to the beach monitoring program conducted by the Hawaii Department of Health, the Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) is measuring bacteria that comes from animal and human waste that can make people sick when it gets into recreational waters. The Hilo BWTF program is helping to inform and protect the local community by providing baseline data on water quality conditions and potential pollution problems in recreational areas popular for swimming and surfing. 

As is the case in most coastal areas, growing populations and development are putting a strain on Hawai’i Island’s natural resources and recreational areas. Pollution moves through runoff from sources including industrial and agricultural areas, residential and commercial cesspools, and oils from the roads. Water contamination is threatening the health of our coastal ecosystems and compromising public safety in our recreational waters. While it is common sense to not swim in brown or rushing waters, microscopic bacteria and pollutants can be present even when the water looks clean. Not all bacteria are dangerous, they are important components of ecosystems that help break down organic matter and digest the food in our stomachs. However, disease-causing bacteria and other pathogenic viruses and protozoa found in human and animal waste can make us sick. People who are exposed to polluted water can become ill with gastro-intestinal symptoms, eye, ear and nose infections, skin rashes and worse. The annual public health cost of recreating in polluted waters is currently $2.9 billion nationally. 

By regularly monitoring popular beaches and those where we have pollution concerns, the Hilo BWTF program will provide community members with critical water quality information needed to make decisions on where it is safe to surf, swim and play in the water. Our water quality information will also be valuable to make informed decisions locally within the spheres of policy, management and infrastructure improvements. 

Surfrider and community volunteers come together to learn the water sampling technique at the beach.

The launch of this new Blue Water Task Force program, as well as the chapter’s participation in the pilot citizen science program in Puako developed by the Coral Reef Alliance are the first steps towards creating an even larger, island-wide citizen science group to monitor the nearshore environment. Following the lead of Hui O Ka Wai Ola established on Western Maui, the Hilo Chapter is joining forces with Coral Reef Alliance, The Kohala Center, University of Hawai’i, Waterkeepers, South Kohala Coastal Partnership and Keaukaha Action Network to create an island-wide citizen science hui on Hawai’i Island. This hui, or group, bands together many groups that all have similar missions and objectives to streamline our efforts and standardize methods for data collection. As this effort gets underway, other testing parameters will be added to the monitoring program that measure the health of nearshore ecosystems including turbidity, pH, salinity, nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous), dissolved oxygen and temperature. Since the Hilo Chapter’s first sampling run in October this year, new sites have already been added along the coastline to provide information to inform safe beach going at even more beaches. 

The Hilo Chapter looks forward to strengthening their community partnerships over the coming year to continue to expand their citizen-science water quality monitoring program. Learn more about their efforts to establish their community-based program and find out how you can help support their efforts here.

View a map of all the chapter’s current sampling sites and the results from their first sampling runs on the Blue Water Task Force website. Check the Hawai’i Department of Health’s website for current advisories issued to protect public health at beaches across Hawai’i.