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Beach Safety The Ocean & Runoff Pollution
Planning A Beach Trip
Water Quality at the Beach
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DHEC helps ensure beaches are clean

Each year between May and October, DHEC’s Beach Monitoring Program collects shoreline water samples at more than 100 locations on South Carolina beaches.

We test the samples for bacteria. Whenever bacteria levels are too high, we post signs to advise people — especially young children and people with weak immune systems — not to swim in certain areas.

Advisories do not mean that the beach is not open for swimming. It means that swimming is not advised.  However, wading, fishing, and shell collecting are still safe unless you have open sores or cuts that could become infected.

If we post an advisory, we then continue to test the water every day until the bacteria count drops to acceptable levels.

In 2010, the state’s beaches were advisory-free 99.9 percent of the time.

Going to the beach? First, check out the water quality.

The Ocean and Runoff Pollution

How do high levels of bacteria get into the ocean?

When rainwater flows over land in cities, suburbs and farmland it picks up bacteria from livestock, pet and wildlife waste. It also picks up fertilizers and pesticides from farms, lawns and golf courses, along with motor oil, loose soil and other pollutants. This runoff flows into storm drains and ditches that can carry it out to our beaches.

Why is it unhealthy? Swimming in water that contains high levels of bacteria can give you gastroenteritis. This can cause nausea, a stomachache, diarrhea, vomiting, a headache and fever.

Bacteria can also give you ear, eye, skin, nose, and throat infections.

Planning a beach trip?

In addition to DHEC’s Beach Monitoring Web site, you can find advisories posted in local newspapers, on radio and television, and over Twitter. And watch for advisory signs on the beach. Avoid swimming in those areas.

Do not allow children to play in or near shallow pools of water from swashes and stormwater pipes. These pools are caused by runoff and often contain much higher levels of bacteria than the ocean.

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Additional Resources

Other Helpful Web Sites


David Graves
Program Coordinator
Beach Monitoring

Sean Torrens
Horry and Georgetown Counties

Erin Neely
Charleton County

Dave Payne
Colleton and Beaufort




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This page was last updated on December 4, 2012.