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State of the beach water: Hawai'i 2008 report

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State of the beach water: Hawai'i 2008 report

For those of you wondering which beaches have the cleanest water and which the worst, the NDRC recently released its annual report, Testing the Waters 2008: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches, which covers the whole nation. Hawai'i was about in the middle.

The thing is, the testing only tells the percent exceeding the maximum set by the standards, not actual bacterial count or types of bacteria. Still, it's something.

Article in today's Tribune Herald (the Hilo paper)


Worst county was Kaua'i, then Honolulu, then Hawai'i, then Maui. Disturbing fact on Big Island: all the wastewater being discharged near Honokohau

"2 million gallons of partially treated undisinfected wastewater the county dumps into a 14-year-old 'temporary' dump less than three-fourths of a mile from the ocean near Honokohau."

"Big Island beaches with excessive bacteria readings included Old Kona Airport (Pawai) (36 percent), Ohiaula Beach (22 percent), Kawaihae Harbor (19 percent), Kamakaokahonu (17 percent), Honolii Beach County Park (16 percent) and Hilo Bayfront (16 percent)."

If you don't recognize all of the above (I didn't) --

Ohiaula should be Ohai'ula, which is Spencer; Kamakaokahonu aka Kamakahonu is the King Kam beach at the Kailua-Kona pier.

Good news: volunteers are trying to acquire equipment to get better data on the Big Island coastlines as early as 2009.

The actual NDRC report, Hawai'i page:


There's a table on page 2, which shows the readings for the monitored beaches and a list of unmonitored for which there is no data.


Kauna'oa (Mauna Kea hotel) is 11%

Kapoho tide pools -- zero per cent!

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1. Re: State of the beach water: Hawai'i 2008 report

Making a separate post on what bothers me about the "worst" list here. They are largely beaches we recommend for small children because the water is gentle.


King Kam beach


Old Kona Airport

I have always felt Spencer is not clean; (my husband has always refused to go there); Hilo Bay was a no-brainer and Kailua Pier not surprising; Kawaihae Harbor was an ICK for me (but local kids play there).

Old Airport I've seen recommended here as a keiki beach but have never been. This one is the worst, and closest to Honokohau where they are dumping -- coincidence?

Honoli'i surprised me but it's practically Hilo Bay and sits right under a longtime community (Pauka'a) that is probably mostly on cesspool.

Interesting that Anaeho'omalu had fewer exceedance testings at 4% than either Kauna'oa or Hapuna. And Four Seasons was about the best of the ones monitored (0% exceedance).

So tell me where do the keiki swim?

(to paraphrase Cat Stevens)

Omaha, NE
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2. Re: State of the beach water: Hawai'i 2008 report

In the pool, where the water's chlorinated? :-)

Seriously, I wonder if the conditions that make those beaches so attractive to take the keiki (i.e. low waves, calm water) also means that the ocean doesn't "flush" these areas out, allowing bad stuff to grow.

Or maybe it's the keiki themselves. Swim diapers are only meant to keep #2 from floating away. Trust me when I say that water flows right through them... so I'm sure that any bacteria that comes out ends up in the water.

Washington DC...
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3. Re: State of the beach water: Hawai'i 2008 report

Indeed. I try to avoid spots with lots of diaper laden tots.

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4. Re: State of the beach water: Hawai'i 2008 report

True about the diapers, although I doubt the tot output compares to the effects of "2 million gallons of partially treated undisinfected wastewater" or all that wastewater trickling through the ground from the houses. Maybe as a localized factor while you swim ...

Yes, Mike, I do think the sluggish water exchange that makes these beaches attractive to toddlers is responsible for the bad numbers -- with the exception of surf beach Honoli'i.

We get a fair amount of parents who are all thrilled about their holiday and planning days on the beach with their infants and toddlers, and these are the beaches where we direct them to go. Now I'm not so sure that's a good idea.

Most of them don't want to hear "swimming pool" -- but that might be the right answer, especially in winter when the ocean is rough.

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5. Re: State of the beach water: Hawai'i 2008 report

So - with the Kapoho Tide Pools sitting at 0% - does that mean all of the warning about not swimming/snorkeling there because of "cess pools" is unwarranted? We are trying to decide if the detour is worth our time on the way to Hilo.

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6. Re: State of the beach water: Hawai'i 2008 report

Love, Kapoho is a tough place to snorkel but if is worth the effort. It's beautiful once past the tidepools.


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7. Re: State of the beach water: Hawai'i 2008 report

the concerns are legitimate. The cesspools are next door. There are official signs at the tidepools disclosing that bacteria is present and swim at your own risk.

The pools are always emptying out and filling, as tide pools do. I lived next to them for a month and watched the patterns. When they are freshly filled is the best time to snorkel.

You can get a tide table for the area online with a simple search.

If there has been a storm surge and flooding that is the worst as the water comes under the houses and all sorts of debris ends up in the ocean.

Then as for the first pool out, like I said, lots of babies who aren't toilet trained swimming there ... up to you!

In winter, it is definitely not safe to go outside the pools into the open ocean, and I'd be very careful in the outermost pools not to get sucked out into the ocean.

Burnaby, Canada
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8. Re: State of the beach water: Hawai'i 2008 report

Interesting info thanks. Quite surprising how bad the overall quality is. I wonder how many people get sick from it every year? I've complained in the past that they don't post results at the beaches, but I don't think the program is necessarily designed for public safety.

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9. Re: State of the beach water: Hawai'i 2008 report

Thank you so much for the insight. I live near the ocean, so when an area is unsafe they make a big deal about it. I will check the tide charts and play it by ear as far as storms go. I guess this will be one of those things that we will chalk up as a bonus if it happens. Definitely not worth getting sick over, especially smack dab in the middle of our trip.


Bayonne, France
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10. Re: State of the beach water: Hawai'i 2008 report

Everyone take a deep breath...

Hawaii's ocean water is still among the very best nationwide.

The reports bases its findings on the reportings of each State's health or environmental services department and their survey outcome relative to THAT state's official standards...most of which are based on federal guidelines.


Hawaii considers there to be an "exceedence" of State standards when the primary bacterial indicators surpass a geometric mean of a mere 7 cfu/100 ml. This is a fraction of the federal standards (employed by almost all the other states), which I fuzzily recall is either 25 or 35 cfu/100 ml.

So, while Hawaii may have, by the state's own count, enough exceedence incidents to be 25th in the nation, it would probably have the fewest if it were grading its beaches on the federal criteria; which the feds call for Hawaii to do in the report, but which local environemntalists oppose.