The water quality at more than 80 popular coastal, river and lake recreation sites and shellfish beds in the region are surveyed and monitored by Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Waikato Regional Council from October to March each year.
The waters are tested for bacteria and toxin forming algae species. This includes benthic cyanobacteria (Phormidium) in rivers and streams. If a recreational water site is found to be significantly contaminated, with risk to public health, Toi Te Ora - Public Health Service informs the public by issuing a health warning and the local council erects warning signs.
If you swim in or drink contaminated water, you risk getting sick.
Water can be contaminated with toxic algae (blue-green algae/cyanobacteria) or animal faeces from rural or urban run-off.
As a public health precaution, it is routinely recommended that people avoid swimming in rivers, streams and harbour areas for 48 hours after heavy rainfall events.
What to look for
If you notice the water in your local lake, river or beach is murky or has a musty smell, go somewhere else.
If you notice the river bed or rocks covered in algae and looks like black/brown leathery mats, go somewhere else.
Avoid swimming for up to 48 hours (two days) or until the water looks clear after heavy or prolonged rain.
Toxic algae, also known as blue-green algae and cyanobacteria, are capable of producing toxins that are harmful to humans and animals, whether swallowed or exposed to skin during swimming, kayaking or water-skiing.
Symptoms include fever, headaches, dizziness, skin rashes, stomach cramps and aggravated hay fever and asthma and damage to the nervous system.
Download our fact sheet on Toxic Algae (blue-green algae / cyanobacteria)
In built up areas such as Tauranga Harbour there is a possibility of sewage discharge from the reticulated sewage system. This can lead to contaminated water. Should this occur, the local authority would advise the public that an unplanned sewer overflow has occurred and remedy the affected area.
For more information about sewer overflows, contact your local council.
People can also experience cold and flu-like symptoms and skin, eye and ear infections.
Swimming, spa and geothermal pools
Contact us if you have a complaint or enquiry regarding the hygiene of a local swimming, spa or geothermal pool, or if you suspect you obtained an infection/illness from using a public pool.
Resource: Keep you head above water - Amoebic meningitis
Sea slugs are a wide-ranging organism in the marine environment of New Zealand. Sea slugs may be found washed up on beaches anytime, anywhere, probably related to their breeding cycle and prevailing weather patterns. The slugs are mottled grey or sand-coloured, usually 2 to 2.5cm in length. They can grow up to 10cm.
Toi Te Ora - Public Health Service advises that:
Children and pets should be supervised on beaches.
Adults, children and pets should not eat anything found washed up on any beach.
Parents need to be aware of where their children are swimming or playing and what they are handling.
Sea slugs on any beach must be avoided.
TTX is extremely toxic to humans and even a very small dose could be fatal.
Early symptoms of TTX poisoning include numbness and tingling around the mouth and nausea. This numbness and tingling can then spread to the face, tongue and other areas, with paralysis, co-ordination problems and slurred speech. Medical attention should be sought immediately should any person become unwell after contact with a sea slug.
Information for First Aid Response for Tetrodotoxin (TTX) Poisoning is available on the Auckland Regional Public Health Service website.
For more information about Sea Slugs, visit the NIWA website.
Swimmers itch, also known as ‘duck itch’ or cercarial dermatitis, is caused by exposure to tiny larvae or cercariae in shallow, warm water and can cause an allergic irritation of the skin.
Symptoms can include an itchy or tingling sensation that develops in to tiny red spots, pimple-like bumps (papules) and occasionally, hives or blisters.
You can reduce the risk of being affected by avoiding shallow areas of water, particularly where there is vegetation and/or evidence of bird life, and washing or showering with clean water following any contact. Drying yourself off with a towel after swimming can also help.
For more information on swimmers itch, click here.
About recreational water quality and health - Environmental Health Indicators New Zealand
Monitoring information collected by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and the Waikato Regional Council is available on the Land, Air, Water, Aotearoa (LAWA) website, and specifically includes:
- Guidelines for Boards of Trustees for the safe operation and management of a school swimming pool