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Beach Report 2015–16
Summer Highlights Report

Beach Report

The beaches around Port Philip Bay are used for recreational activities such as boating and swimming, particularly throughout summer.

Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) runs the Beach Report program, which forecasts and monitors recreational water quality at 36 beaches around Port Phillip Bay during the summer season.

This summer’s period ran from 1 November 2015 to 10 April 2016.

How did our beaches perform?

Braches met end of season objectives

97% (35 out of 36) of beaches around Port Philip Bay met our water quality objectives for swimming (end-of-season retrospective).

The beach that did not meet the recreational water quality objectives was Mentone beach. This beach was impacted by stormwater runoff, which carries pollution. This does not mean this beach was unsafe for swimming the whole season, but it did experience a higher number of days with poorer water quality which can increase the risk of disease to swimmers.

Beach water quality is improving

Beach Report meeting swim objectives in previous summer

Water quality at Port Phillip Bay beaches has remained safe for recreational use this season.

We’re finding lower bacterial levels at these beaches than in the past, with our monitoring results showing less impact from rainfall and stormwater pollution compared with previous summers.

What information do we gather about beaches?

The information we report on this website and through Twitter includes the following:

  • Water quality forecasts – 
    • These are reported twice daily.
    • Forecasts of ‘Good’, ‘Fair’ or ‘Poor’ are given for each beach to inform decisions on recreational use.
    • They are based on weather forecasts, observations and warnings, water quality history, and weekly water sampling results.
  • Weekly water quality monitoring –
    • Samples are analysed for the presence of a group of bacteria called enterococci, which indicate that water may not be safe for recreational use due to faecal contamination.
    • If it’s not considered safe to swim due to increased risk of illness, the public is notified on the website and Twitter. Signage at the affected beach is put up by the local council.
    • EPA works with bayside councils and water authorities to investigate the source of water pollution.
    • These samples are used to assess whether the site has met the end-of-season water quality objectives for swimming.
  • Alerts about pollution incidents, fish deaths and algal blooms –
    • Water quality alerts are given all year round
    • Alerts are based on reports from the community, businesses and government, EPA or other responding agency.

Pollution can be reported at any time to EPA on 1300 372 842.

What influenced water quality and forecasts this summer?

Weather events impacting beach water quality

Weather events impacting beach water quality

During rain events, pollutants in runoff wash down stormwater channels and out into the bay, making nearby beaches unsafe for swimming from increased risk of illness.

When a rain event occurred, Beach Report informed the public by issuing a water quality forecast of ‘Poor’, advising the public to avoid swimming near stormwater outlets, rivers and creeks for 24 to 48 hours after rain had stopped.

An example of this was during heavy rain in early November and late December 2015, late January and mid-March 2016. On these occasions beaches were issued with ‘Poor’ forecasts for several days at a time, and stormwater alerts were issued.

What else impacted water quality over the summer?

There were eight water quality alerts and advisories issued for Port Phillip Bay beaches:

  • On 17 November 2015 an alert was issued for Canadian Bay Beach due to reports of discoloured water and surface scum. Investigations concluded that this had entered the bay via a discharge into the nearby Bellar Creek. An investigation into the source of the discharge could not be conducted as the discharge was short-lived, not allowing it to be tracked back upstream.
  • Separate pollution alerts were issued on 9 December 2015, and on 2 and 9 February 2016 for Dromana Beach after high bacterial levels were detected from weekly water quality monitoring. Following investigations, the most likely source of the high bacterial levels were dry weather discharges from a stormwater drain. Although the cause of the discharge could not be confirmed, Mornington Peninsula Council inspected Dromana’s nearby commercial area and found non-compliances for waste water discharge or leakages into stormwater drains.
  • A bright orange discolouration was reported at Williamstown Beach on 10 December 2015. An alert was issued for an algal bloom. The alert was removed after one day as the bloom was broken up by wind and tides.
  • A pollution alert was issued on 22 December 2015 for beaches south of Blairgowrie Yacht Club after reports of discoloured water. Investigations indicated that the discolouration was likely due to nearby dredging at Blairgowrie Yacht Squadron Safe Boat Harbour, but this could not be confirmed.
  • A pollution alert was issued on 25 January 2016 for Frankston Beaches near the mouth of Kananook Creek after EPA detected a sewer spill into the Beach Street stormwater drain. The sewer spill was repaired by South East Water.
  • A pollution alert was issued for Half Moon Bay Beach on 27 January 2016 following reports of brown discolouration in the water. Further investigations and sampling determined that this was caused by fine organic debris rather than algae, which presented no risk to human health.

All water quality alerts were removed after the pollution, dead fish or algal bloom could no longer be detected or were no longer visible. Water quality alerts were also issued for other pollution events and algal blooms in Port Phillip Bay, but were not near swimming beaches. Pollution discharges to the bay can be difficult to investigate, as EPA relies on timely public reports of pollution and for the pollution to still be occurring when EPA officers arrive at the scene. Pollution should be reported to the EPA hotline on 1300 372 842.

Water quality signs at Melbourne beaches

EPA is partnering with Life Saving Victoria to introduce water quality forecast signs at more beaches around Port Phillip Bay.

In 2015–16, the number of life saving clubs with signs expanded from 18 to all 28 clubs in Port Phillip Bay. The signs inform beachgoers of water quality forecasts and other water conditions for swimming.

Improvements to the program this summer

  • All beaches with life saving clubs now have signage, compared with 18 out of 28 clubs last summer.
  • The time period for the 2015–16 Beach Report season was extended, starting in November 2015 and finishing at the end of school holidays on 10 April 2016 (previous seasons have run between December and the Labour Day long weekend in March). The season was extended because weather forecasts indicated a hotter-than-average November and summer period.

Beach Report ‘Fast Facts’

  • In 2015–16, water quality forecasts were ‘Good’ 75% of the time, ‘Fair’ 19% and ‘Poor’ 6%.
  • Eight water quality alerts were issued over the summer for Port Phillip Bay beaches.
  • Forecasts were provided to over 3,000 followers on Twitter.

Future directions

EPA Beach Report is working with Life Saving Victoria, Monash University’s BehaviourWorks and Federation University to trial better ways to communicate forecasts to the community and influence their decisions to swim in the bay. These include trialing a forecast SMS service, risk-based communications (e.g., increased communication during hot days when fair-poor forecasts are issued) and working more closely with lifeguards at Port Phillip Bay’s life saving clubs.

Beach Report will continue to work with bayside councils, Life Saving Victoria, water authorities and other parts of government to improve the delivery of Beach Report communications and protect recreational water quality at Port Phillip Bay beaches.

Program Partners