Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

No Travel Needed to Visit Florida's Cleanest Beaches

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

No Travel Needed to Visit Florida's Cleanest Beaches

Article excerpt

Byline: Caren Burmeister, Shorelines staff writer

Despite two health advisories in May that briefly closed beaches in Jacksonville Beach and Atlantic Beach, Jacksonville's coast has the healthiest water of 34 coastal counties in the state.

The Florida Healthy Beaches Program counted 859 advisories between August 2000 and June 1, only two of which occurred on Jacksonville's coast, said Aaron Hilliard, the Duval County Health Department's environmental health director.

"We have one of the best beaches in Florida," Hilliard said. "We want to encourage people to use our beaches."

He attributed the clean water to the inward curve of the state along Northeast Florida and active currents that keep the water from becoming stagnant.

The Health Department shared the data in a news conference Tuesday in honor of National Coast Week, which is meant to increase public awareness about water testing, coastal cleanups and other programs that protect the beaches.

Florida has the second-longest coastline in the United States, after Alaska.

Since 1999, the Duval County Health Department has tested water samples every week at 10 sites from North Talbot Island to South Jacksonville Beach. Jacksonville's beaches have had consistently good ratings.

The water is tested for high concentrations of two types of bacteria: fecal coliform, or microorganisms that live in feces; and enterococci, an indicator that the Environmental Protection Agency uses to measure water quality. High concentrations of either type can cause rashes, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

If the concentration of enterococci exceeds safe levels, an advisory is issued. A warning is issued if fecal coliform numbers are too high.

In either case, the Health Department will notify the city and the media, and post signs prohibiting swimming in the area where the samples were taken. …

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