The term ‘recreational water’ describes any body of water that people come into contact with while undertaking recreational activities (swimming, water sports, shellfish collection etc.).
Every week, from the start of November to the end of March, the quality of water at 38 recreational water sites all over Hawke’s Bay is monitored by the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council to make sure people can visit these sites without becoming unwell. The results and more detailed information about each site is available on Land, Air and Water Aotearoa (LAWA).
Permanent signs may be erected by local councils at sites where water quality is consistently very poor. It is recommended not to swim at these sites at any time. Where water is found to be unsafe to swim or fish in, or collect shellfish from, the Health Protection Team is alerted and a health warning will be published. In some instances this will be placed on signs at the affected site.
Health risks of unsafe/contaminated recreational water sites
- Contamination with human or animal faeces can result in the presence of disease-causing micro-organisms (bacteria, viruses and protozoa). Bacterial contamination of water can lead to tummy bugs, skin/ear/ear infections and breathing difficulties.
- Heavy rain and/or sewer overflows can wash contaminants from land into waterways
- Rivers and lakes may also contain harmful toxic algae (cyanobacteria) – examples of what this can look like are pictured below. This can be a risk to human and dog health, especially during the hotter months of the year.
- Shellfish filter out algae from water as a food source. If the algae are toxic these toxins can accumulate in the shellfish, making them poisonous to eat. Click here for more information on shellfish biotoxins, including any alerts.
Our top tips for safe swimming and shellfish collection
- When choosing a suitable swimming or fishing spot, check the water quality results here and for shellfish biotoxin alerts here. Keep in mind that these test results are only a snapshot of conditions at the time of their collection and bacteria levels can quickly change in response to environmental conditions such as rain.
- Follow the advice in any warning and alerts and pay attention to warning signs at recreational water sites.
- Stay out of the water for 3 days after heavy rain. If you can’t see your toes when standing in knee-deep water then water quality is not the best for a swim.
- Avoid swimming near potential sources of contamination such as flocks of birds and storm or waste water outlets.
- Avoid contact with water if the river bed or rocks are covered in leathery mats of black/brown algae (pictures above) and do not eat shellfish from there. The Tukituki catchment is prone to high levels of toxic algae during the summer months. Keep a look out for advisory signs at sites where there is a high likelihood that toxic algae will reach levels that make it difficult to avoid during summer.
- If the water is murky or has a musty smell, avoid contact with it and don’t eat shellfish from it.