Beach Closures and Nature Conservation: Why should you Tread Lightly this Summer

2022-08-16

 |  Biodiversity/Conservation

The recent heatwave with temperatures hitting 30 degrees at regular intervals must have left you sweating like never before, and there is no better time than now to enjoy some relaxing beach time or to spend some time in the tranquility of nature. But what if you discover on arrival that there is a last-minute closure notice at the beach, making that sweet relief of cool water impossible? Or what if you have planned to explore a new trail with your entire bunch but eventually figure out that large groups are being discouraged? While such an announcement is undesirable for anyone willing to enjoy some quality beach time or discover a new trail with friends on these scorching summer days, there are some valid reasons behind public beach shutdowns or special directories for nature explorers in summer. Among the several reasons behind such prohibitions, the most common factors responsible are beach water pollution and the risk of destruction of natural habitats of birds and animals. Giving due attention to such factors will make us realize the importance of treading lightly as we plan to get closer to nature this summer.

What leads to beach closures and why should you be concerned?

First and foremost, beach closures are important in terms of ensuring the health and safety of its visitors. An increasing level of pathogens and algal blooms in beach water are common scenarios in summer. Different types of parasites, viruses, and bacteria grow quicker in beach water during summer as the water heats up. Researchers often identify the existence of E. Coli bacteria to be a harbinger of the presence of more harmful pathogenic bacteria in water. Such an approach by the researchers is understandable because despite being potentially harmless, E. Coli is a group of bacteria found in human waste and, at the very least, coming into contact with parasites or pathogenic bacteria can cause swimmers to itch. Beachgoers can also experience headaches, earaches, upset stomach or even diarrhea if they swim into water contaminated with harmful bacteria. Fecal contamination of beach water by humans and animals have been found responsible for the excessive presence of human pathogens. Natural factors like heavy rainfall and declining weather can also cause the number of pathogenic bacteria to flourish. When the E. Coli levels of any water body exceed the limit set by a city authority, the water is declared unsafe for public use. Even beaches with safe levels of coliforms can contain pathogenic microbes like Staphylococcus, enteroviruses, flesh-eating bacteria, etc., that can threaten human health if found in higher than normal abundance levels.  As suggested by the American Society for Microbiology, both abiotic and anthropogenic sources can influence the density and distribution of microbes.  A deeper understanding of these microbes’ evolution and the ecology of the shore is needed for better protection of public health.  Furthermore, after COVID-19 took over with its first case in Canada in early 2020, there have been new speculations about health concerns for beachgoers. Researchers from the National Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine have asserted that waves formed in beach water can create microscopic pathogens in the atmosphere, and the SARS-CoV2 (the virus responsible for COVID-19) can live in such natural aerosol mists long enough to to infect people. Scientists have also predicted poorly treated sewage to be another element increasing COVID-19 risks for people visiting public beaches. All these factors legitimize beach closure in summer for the protection of nature as well as human and animal lives.

Treading lightly and responsibly in nature

Unable to enjoy some beach time due to restrictions? You can still make the most of your summer vacation by exploring terrestrial nature.  Enjoying and getting close to nature can be the best way to spend your summer. However, experts and conservation groups would like to discourage you from taking a whole bunch of people for your nature adventure. They recommend you “exercise the lightest touch possible” as you explore ecologically sensitive areas. Conservation groups like The Nature Trust of New Brunswick are always working to create public awareness about visiting wetlands and rare habitats. They do highlight the importance of preserving rare plants such as the wild coffee grown in natural reserves like the Meduxnekeag Valley Nature Preserve in New Brunswick. Conservation of the natural habitats of birds and animals is of utmost importance for organizations encouraging responsible nature visitors. For example – the Big Glace Bay Beach in Nova Scotia is a nesting ground for piping plovers and other species of birds and increased human activity in the area has the potential to disturb these important habitats. Environmentalists opt for the “leave-no-trace” principle when visiting beaches and nature reserves as such. 

Even though it may sound disappointing to be deprived of some exciting summer days on a beach this summer, the long-term consequences of the measures in place will surely outweigh the momentary disappointment. As responsible visitors, we can always do our best at personal levels to leave nature intact. Taking your trash with you or using trash bins, not feeding shore birds or wild animals, and being careful with your pet’s waste – all these baby steps can eventually ensure a better prospect for the ecosystem and nature. Partaking in organized beach clean-up projects such as the Take 3 for the sea (which promotes the action of taking out three pieces of garbage from the beach) is also a great way to contribute to the conservation of the beaches and their surrounding ecosystem. However, the best practice while exploring natural reserves is to go in small numbers so that the animal habitats and nature remain intact. 

References: 

  1. Buczek, Monika. 2017. “Sandy Beach Microbes: the Good, the Bad, and the Flesh-eating.” American Society for Microbiology. August 3. Retrieved August 8, 2022. https://asm.org/Articles/2017/August/sandy-beach-microbes-the-good-the-bad-and-the-fles 
  1. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. 2020. Rapid Expert Consultation on the Possibility of Bioaerosol Spread of SARS-CoV-2 for the COVID-19 Pandemic (April 1, 2020). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.17226/25769 
  1. Sweet, Jennifer. 2022. “Heading back to nature this summer? Tread lightly, say outdoor experts.” CBC News June 26. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/fragile-ecosystem-tourism-1.6500452 
  1. Take 3 for the Sea. 2022. Retrieved 8 August 2022, from https://www.take3.org/ 

Photos: 

  1. gettyimages.com | Creator: Izhar Khan | Credit: Getty Images | Copyright: Izhar Khan
https://newscdn2.weigelbroadcasting.com/RnFPj-1562797585-141067-blog-0930P_BEACH%20WARNING_VO_WDJT6UWQ.JPG

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