Water quality advisory cautions swimmers along beach

Water quality advisory cautions swimmers along beach

MISSISSIPPI SOUND (WLOX) - You may have noticed orange caution flags along the beach. The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality issued a water quality advisory over the weekend, recommending beach visitors stay out of the water.

The recent heavy rainfall is largely to blame for this water quality advisory, which stretches all the way from Jones Park in Gulfport to East Beach in Ocean Springs.

The water quality advisory warns of high levels of bacteria that could make swimmers sick. The advisory covers more than 15 miles of shoreline.

"We sample once a week, unless we have an issue," said Misty Fiello, who manages the beach monitoring program.

She says high levels of enterococci prompted this latest advisory.

"Enterococci is just an indicator organism. Really not something that would make you that sick, but its presence may indicate that sewage or other more pathogenic microorganisms are present. So, you're really more worried about the pathogens," Fiello explained.

Recent heavy rainfall is certainly a contributing factor. That rain washes all sorts of storm water and pollutants straight into the sound. Strong winds help mix the sediment and water.

"This time of year, we see most of our advisories. The rainfall and sediment re-suspension, because the bacteria that we look for can persist in the environment. So, you can get high counts with sediment re-suspension and with heavy rainfall," said Fiello.

Caution flags warning visitors about the water quality advisory are staggered along the beach, like the one near the Biloxi lighthouse. In some high traffic areas, those caution flags are barely visible. Like at the foot of Courthouse Road, for instance.

The caution flag at the boardwalk there is 70 yards away from the main beach visitor parking lot. No one we asked was even aware of the advisory.

"No. I didn't know," said one teen who had just gotten out of the water. "That's messed up."

The advisory will remain until the bacteria level drops.

"Once we have two good days, then the advisories will go down," said Fiello.

Since it's just an advisory, you can swim at your own risk. Keep in mind, the main illness you could get from the water is gastroenteritis, the symptoms of which include nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps.

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