Recreational water sites

Environment Southland currently monitors 13 marine and 7 freshwater bathing sites during summer (December to March).

marine.jpgSouthland’s marine recreational monitoring sites. Note there are sites near Oban.

freshwater.jpgSouthland’s freshwater recreational monitoring sites.

Water contaminated by faecal matter can contain a range of disease-causing microorganisms, such as bacteria and protozoa. These organisms pose a health hazard when the water is used for recreational activities such as contact water sports and shellfish gathering.

Regional and Local Councils have responsibilities under the Resource Management Act (RMA 1991) and the Health Act to monitor and assess the human health risk from recreational bathing and shellfish gathering. This involves routine monitoring of bacterial concentrations at popular bathing sites around the country. As outlined in the RMA, regional councils and the Ministry for the Environment also have obligations to report on the State of the Environment at bathing sites.

Southland's recreational bathing water quality is assessed and reported according to national guidelines set by the Ministry for the Environment and Ministry of Health these guidelines can be accessed on the Ministry for the Environment website.

How do I know if it is safe to swim?

The national guidelines for microbiological water quality categorise recreational bathing sites into a three different 'modes' (green, amber, red) according to the results of indicator bacteria counts. This 'traffic light' approach helps inform the public on whether the water quality of a site is suitable for swimming and other water-based recreational activities.

Check out the latest results from our weekly summer monitoring of Southland's bathing sites here.

ModeMarine (enterococci/100mL)Freshwater(E. coli/100mL)
Green/Surveillance
(minimal health risk)
No single sample greater than 140No single sample greater than 260
Amber/Alert
(health risk may have increased)
One single sample between 141 and 280One single sample between 261 and 550
Red/Action
(significant health risk)
Two consecutive single samples greater than 280One single sample greater than 550

When am I most at risk?

Under certain conditions there is a greater risk of getting sick in the course of recreational water-based activities.

Swimmers can reduce their risk to illness by:

  • swimming away from stormwater outlets;
  • swimming away from streams and areas with possible runoff from intensive agriculture,
  • avoiding swimming during and up to two days after heavy rainfall.

There is potentially a greater risk to those with weakened immunity, such as the very young, and the elderly.

Overall grade

As well as measuring bacteria levels, we allocate a grade to beaches according to the suitability of the water for recreation (Suitability for Recreation Grade, SFRG). The grades are based on faecal contamination risk factors within the catchment (e.g. intensive agricultural use in immediate catchment), and levels of indicator bacteria, based on data that has been collected over a number of years. This grade gives an overview on how safe it is to swim in a particular location. Beaches are graded as: Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor, Very Poor. The risk of becoming sick from swimming at a beach increases as the beach grading shifts from Very Good to Very Poor .

Environment Southland prepares a monitoring plan for 'Recreational Bathing and Shellfish Gathering Waters in Southland', in collaboration with Public Health South, Southland District Council and Invercargill City Council.

Page reviewed: 16 Jan 2017 3:09pm