The South Carolina beach monitoring season begins May 1 and runs through October 1.
Visit the S.C. Beach Access Guide and zoom in or select a beach to look for swim advisory spots in that area.
We routinely collect water samples at more than 120 locations along South Carolina's beaches. If high numbers of bacteria are found, we issue an advisory for that portion of the beach. An advisory means that DHEC advises you NOT to swim in those areas. This is especially true for young children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.
Advisories do not mean that the beach is closed. Wading, fishing, and shell collecting do not pose a risk. Advisories may be issued due to high bacteria counts or rainfall. Advisories are lifted when sample results fall below the limit of 104CFU/100mL. Check the local newspaper and television news stations. Look for advisory signs when you go to the beach.
Frequently Asked Questions about Beach Water Monitoring and Swimming Advisories
Note: Beaches are not closed to swimming or recreation as a result of an advisory. All S.C. beaches are currently open as usual.
When did beach water monitoring begin by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC)?
DHEC began monitoring select beaches in 1998. The agency began routine monitoring of state beaches in 2002 under the federal Beaches Environmental and Coastal Health Act (Beach Act).
How many beach water locations are monitored in the state?
Currently, there are 123 beach water monitoring stations in the state. These stations are located from Cherry Grove Beach near the South Carolina-North Carolina border to the southern end of Hilton Head Island.
What time of year and how often does DHEC sample beaches?
DHEC samples water at the state's beaches twice a month starting May 1 to October 1. Beaches in the Myrtle Beach area are sampled weekly.
What is tested in beach water monitoring samples?
Enterococcus bacteria are tested in the samples to indicate the presence of bacteria in the water. Elevated levels of these bacteria in the water can indicate possible contamination by fecal waste. Enterococcus is a type of bacteria that lives in the intestinal tracts of warm-blooded animals, including humans, pets and wildlife.
What types of swimming advisories does DHEC issue?
DHEC issues short-term or temporary swimming advisories during the swimming season from May 1 to October 1. Temporary advisories typically last one to two days. Long-term swimming advisories (see description below) are issued for beach water monitoring locations that have an increased possibility of high bacteria levels -- especially following rain events -- due to stormwater runoff.
If there is a swimming advisory at my favorite beach, does that mean the water there is generally not safe?
No. Beach swim advisories are for isolated spots - within 200 feet of the sign - where swimming is not advised. Most advisories are temporary - lasting only a day or two. For example, DHEC collected more than 40 water samples from various locations in Horry County on March 14, 2016, after confusion about some long-term swim advisory signs at Myrtle Beach. All of the water samples were good.
When are temporary advisories issued?
If two consecutive samples from a monitoring station come back as greater than the accepted standard, a temporary advisory is issued (see footnote below for more detail).
Follow-up sampling is performed daily, and the temporary advisory is removed when the enterococcus bacteria levels drop below the standard.
How is the public notified of a temporary swimming advisory?
DHEC issues a news release, temporary signs are placed 200 feet in either direction from the sampling point on the beach, and the beach access guide found at http://gis.dhec.sc.gov/beachaccess is updated to show the temporary advisory.
What are long-term swimming advisories?
Long-term swimming advisories are put in place for monitoring stations with an increased possibility of high bacteria levels -- especially following rain events -- due to stormwater runoff.
Signs posted at these locations provide advice about swimming in the area 200 feet on either side of the sign due to the potential of high bacteria levels, usually associated with rainfall events. The long-term advisories and signs typically are located where stormwater from pipes or swashes (small creeks) flows across the beach to the ocean.
How is a long-term swimming advisory established?
A long-term advisory is issued for monitoring locations where more than 10 percent of the enterococcus data collected over the past five years exceeds the recreational use standard for enterococcus. The need for a long-term advisory at a monitoring location is reassessed each year. Temporary advisories are not posted where long-term advisories already exist.
When were long-term swimming advisories and signs first used?
Long-term advisories began in Myrtle Beach in 2007 and in Surfside Beach and Horry County in 2008.
Is beach water monitoring performed outside of the swimming season (i.e. May 1 to October1)?
Coastal Carolina University collects data at several stations in the Grand Strand area and reports the results to DHEC year-round for informational purposes. Data collected outside the designated swim season is available at http://gis.dhec.sc.gov/beachaccess . For example, samples were collected at 44 locations along Myrtle Beach on March 14, 2016. All samples were below the standard.
Temporary swimming advisories are not issued outside of the May 1 to October 1 season.
Are signs ever taken down?
Yes. Stormwater solutions/improvements being implemented by local governments are working, resulting in a downward trend in the number of long-term advisory signs. Signs for a long-term advisory are removed when water quality data shows improvement (less than 10 percent of the samples exceed the standard). For 2016, eight signs are being removed due to water quality improvements, and one new sign is being added.
*If two consecutive samples from a monitoring station come back as greater than 104 colonies forming units (cfu)/100 milliliter (mL) of enterococcus bacteria, a temporary advisory is issued. If any single sample exceeds 500 cfu/100mL, a temporary advisory is issued immediately.