The Northern Beaches has performed well in the annual NSW State of the Beaches Report (2022 to 2023), which summarises the performance of 225 swimming sites along the NSW coast over the past 12 months.
The report, which was released on 19 October by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment (DPIE), is scheduled annually to provide a long-term assessment of the suitability of public swimming sites, including beaches and ocean pools, and tidal estuaries and lagoons.
In 2022, the program expanded to add scientific analysis of inland waterways and freshwater swimming sites.
73% of monitored sites received good or very good water quality results. It is a slight decline on 2021 to 2022, largely as a result of wet weather and run-off from suburbia.
Although the overall quality of swimming spots improved across Sydney, the Northern Beaches study area remained stable., The study, which included Clontarf and Forty Baskets pools, Little Manly and Fairlight in North Harbour, as well as 22 swimming spots along the Northern Beaches coastline and 10 around Pittwater, were rated “very good” or “good” water quality, equivalent to the 2021 – 2022 study.
The water quality monitoring is undertaken in partnership with Beachwatch, the NSW Government-run service that has been working with local councils since 1989 to provide high-quality data of public swimming areas.
The report declared, “Palm Beach, Whale Beach, Avalon Beach, The Basin and Great Mackerel Beach… had excellent water quality and were suitable for swimming almost all of the time…
“Mona Vale and South Curl Curl Beach were downgraded to ‘good’, due to a slight decline in microbial water quality.”
However, it cautioned, “The 2 swimming sites in Narrabeen Lagoon – Birdwood Park and Bilarong Reserve – continued to be graded as ‘poor’ in 2022–2023, as in the previous year. Enterococci levels increased with increasing rainfall, and often exceeded the safe swimming limit after light rainfall.”
Enterococcus is a large genus of lactic acid bacteria, usually found in decomposing plants and milk products as well as the intestines of almost every animal, including humans.
There are at least 17 different species of enterococci bacteria, although only a few types cause infections in humans that require medical intervention, such as meningitis (acute inflammation of membranes covering the brain) and urinary tract infections.
The report explained, “Discharge from Narrabeen Lagoon is a significant source of faecal contamination [at Birdwood Park] and Bilarong Reserve in Narrabeen Lagoon retains pollution inputs because it is located away from the lagoon entrance and is not well flushed by clean ocean water.”
Bayview Baths was also graded as ‘poor’, as it was in 2021-22.
Responding to the report, the NSW Minister for the Environment, Penny Sharpe, said: “As we head into swim season it is great news that 96% of our monitored beaches have excellent water quality. Rainfall is the main reason water quality changes, and we had a lot of it in 2022. As a result, many inland and freshwater swimming sites did not perform as well as our ocean beaches.
“While 96% of beaches have excellent water quality, the Beachwatch website has real-time information for swimmers who want to check conditions after rainfall.”
Beachwatch daily water quality forecast: https://beachwatch.nsw.gov.au/home
State of the Beaches 2022-23 report, Sydney region: https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/-/media/OEH/Corporate-Site/Documents/Water/Beaches/State-of-the-Beaches-2022-23/state-of-the-beaches-2022-23-sydney-region-230279.pdf
Manly Observer coverage of the 2021-22 State of the Beaches report: https://manlyobserver.com.au/northern-beaches-remain-among-cleanest-in-sydney-for-swimming-beachwatch/