We are lucky enough to have some wonderful spots in Southland to swim and gather shellfish. But we all need to be aware of the bacteria which affects water quality and can make us sick.
This type of bacteria gets into our waterways through human and animal waste. This can be from sewage, septic tank discharge farming run-off, industrial pollution and boats.
Southlanders have helped to identify popular recreational spots that Environment Southland monitors for the indicators of harmful bacteria. You can find more on the harmful bacteria we test for here.
Our monitoring sites are located at:
- 13 beaches
- 7 rivers and 2 lakes
- 8 shellfish gathering sites
To find out if the water at swimming spots could make you sick, we test water for ‘indicator’ bacteria. Although they may not make you sick themselves, these bacteria tend to indicate the presence of other disease-causing nasties called pathogens (such as viruses and protozoa). We don’t test for the pathogens themselves as this is expensive and generally takes a lot longer. The bacteria we are looking out for in freshwater are E. coli
and faecal coliforms
. At marine sites we are looking out for enterococci
Environment Southland uses two ways of assessing the water quality at popular swimming sites. These are:
- Weekly monitoring of water quality over summer (the latest results are shown in our online map);
- Incorporating long-term water data and other risks to give an overall Suitability for Recreation Grading.
During summer months (December to March) we update our results from monitoring at swimming spots every week. Use our map to find out the latest water quality results
before you go swimming. Our SMART tips
list all the things you need to think about when choosing a spot to swim.
Shellfish gathering sites
We monitor the water quality at 8 shellfish gathering sites around the region monthly throughout the whole year. In general we’ve found that shellfish gathering sites located near river mouths often have increased bacterial contamination. We recommend not gathering shellfish for at least five days after heavy rainfall. The bacteria we are looking out for at shellfish gathering sites are faecal coliforms
Shellfish gathering site results are based on the previous year’s monthly water samples, in accordance with the national guidelines for shellfish gathering, and can be seen on our map here. Our SMART tips
list all the things you need to think about when planning to be in the water.
Cyanobacteria, also known as toxic algae, are widespread in many lakes and rivers in New Zealand, particularly more so over the past decade. They are found across a range of water quality conditions, including relatively clean waters. Toxic algae blooms are more likely to occur over summer, and when rivers are low. The algae can produce toxins (called cyanotoxins) that are harmful to animals and humans when eaten, even licked, or when water containing the toxins is swallowed. Some people will have an allergic reaction to just touching the algae.
There are two types of cyanobacteria that form in Southland's waterways, benthic and planktonic. You are most likely to see the benthic type, which grown in rivers and streams.These algae form mats that detach from the riverbed and accumulate as scum along the river's edge. They also become exposed on the river's edge as the river level drops. Planktonic cyanobacteria (which you could also call floating or suspended algae) is different to that found in rivers. It tends to be hard to see as it forms little globules either suspended in the water, or floating on the surface making it harder to check for.
Children are at high risk of exposure or consumption, especially those who put things in their mouths when out and about. Dogs can be attracted to the musty smell of the toxic algae on riverbanks and in the water and can be poisoned from eating the slime or dried slime mats. Stock can wander into waterways with toxic algae and drink it, so you will need to arrange an alternative water source for them and keep them out of waterways. It is not safe to swim in rivers with toxic algae, and your wetsuit will not protect you. Please see our list of frequently asked questions here.
this video, Dr Wood from Cawthron Institute talks about toxic algae in New Zealand rivers and
what we need to look out for to keep ourselves safe.Photo credit: Cawthron Institute
Photo credit: Horizons Regional Council
conducts monthly monitoring for toxic algae blooms across the region. You can see our alerts for toxic algae here
- For further information on health risks: Public Health South, Medical Officer of Health, (03) 211 0900
- For further information on environmental monitoring: Environment Southland 0800 76 88 45
For more information
Recreational Waters of Southland
This report summarises the results of Environment Southland's 2012/13 microbial monitoring programme, which monitors the public health risk from contact recreation at 11 marine beaches, 13 rivers and lakes, and 8 shellfish gathering sites in the region. Download the report Recreational Waters of Southland
Recreational Bathing Survey 2015
This report includes the findings from a survey conducted across Southland over the summer of 2015. The survey's aim was to find where people undertake recreational activities, what activities are being carried out, what kai is being collected, what problems are being experienced, and whether the recreational bathing programme is delivering to the public needs. Download the Recreational Bathing Survey 2015
Microbiological water quality guidelines for marine and freshwater recreational areasView the guidelines on the Ministry for the Environment website