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Skiing and Snowboarding : Swimming

New Standards for Beach Water Quality, but Will They Protect You?

Ian_swanson_beachPhoto: Ian Swanson

Beach hazards abound. Your surfboard can knock you out. Corals might scrape your face off. A shark could mistake you for a seal or, more likely, you might bump into a jellyfish. Those are risks most of us willingly accept. But when you leave the beach vomiting, or with diarrhea or a fever due to fecal matter in the water, that's just not cool.

On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized its standards for recommended recreational water quality criteria—basically, the levels of water pollutants (like fecal-linked enterococcus in coastal waters and E. coli for the Great Lakes) above which it thinks states or municipalities ought to close public beaches due to hazards to public health. But the new recommendations are weak, says the Natural Resources Defense Fund (NRDC) as well as the Surfrider Foundation, because they are voluntary and offer multiple levels of standards.

The two main recommendations are set to levels of the bacterial pollutants, based on water samples, that could make 32-36 out of 1,000 beachgoers ill. But the EPA offered two even stricter (much stricter) water quality level alerts, called Beach Action Values, and is giving municipalities real incentives to opt for those—aside from a wish to better protect human health.

But, incentives or no, municipalities generally push to keep beaches open as long as possible to ensure a steady stream of beachgoers and a strong local economy (remember Jaws?), says Mara Dias, water quality manager for the Surfrider Foundation. "I find it hard to envision a circumstance where a state would use the most restrictive [level]," she says.

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Expedition Watch: Swimming the Missouri River

Tumblr_mb595ae3As1rrsp00Cornthwaite playing for the camera. Photo:

On August 10, British adventurer Dave Cornthwaite hopped into the Missouri River near Chamberlain, South Dakota, with a 40-pound, gear-filled raft and started swimming south. Since then, he has stroked for roughly 12 hours a day while dragging the raft behind him. As he swims, he tries to avoid floating debris and tree branches lurking just under the surface of the water. The expedition is the seventh installment of his quest to complete 25 journeys of 1,000 miles or more without assistance from motorized transport. He got the idea for his latest gig while stand-up paddling the Mississippi River just north of Saint Louis, Missouri. "I looked up a short stretch of the river and thought, One day, my friend," said Cornthwaite. "Then my mum got me some swimming goggles for Christmas and I thought I better use them well."

We emailed Cornthwaite a day before the end of his journey to find out a bit more.

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Get Dressed for the Beach With Pabst Blue Ribbon and O'Neill


In an effort to assert their authenticity and iconic status, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and O’Neill are teaming up on a full line of clothing and accessories made by O’Neill and plastered with PBR logos. Board shorts, tees, coolers, towels, trucker caps with built in bottle openers and flip flops are just a few of the PBR/O’Neill items you’ll be able to purchase at retailers nationwide come this spring.

“This season, we stayed true to our roots and designed with the American heritage in mind. The collaboration with PBR is a great way to celebrate the legacy of two American brand,” said Shawn Peterson, vice president of O’Neill Men’s Design.

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The Top 10 Destinations for Enjoying Healthy Oceans

Sea_turtle_ellenboganSea turtle hatchling, Baguan Island, Philippines. Photo: Keith Ellenbogen

Examples of poor ocean health are too easy—unfortunately—to find in many parts of the world, especially along densely populated coastlines or in the midst of ocean gyres filled with plastic pollution. But what is the global state of ocean health? A group of marine scientists spent three years devising the Ocean Health Index, a new tool that provides some answers.

More than 60 scientists, researchers and organizations collaborated on the index, which was officially released on Wednesday. The index was designed to provide a framework and benchmark to measure the health of the oceans so that policy makers will have a point of reference to use in shaping future laws and regulations. Basically, it is intended to help us determine to what degree humans can continue to exploit the world’s oceans for food, products and tourism without diminishing their ability to sustain themselves. It sets the bar accordingly.

"A healthy ocean is not a pristine one," says Ben Halpern, the index’s lead author and a research scientist for the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS). "A pristine ocean is not a practical goal. To strive for that is a futile effort and never achievable at global scale."

The index is based on 10 indicators, or "goals," such as tourism/recreation or biodiversity, that set various lenses through which to view ocean health. These 10 goals can be viewed at the global scale or per country, with 171 coastal countries included in the index. The United States rates horribly in the tourism/recreation goal, scoring just one out of 100. I asked Halpern what gives.

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Apr 23, 2014

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