Updated at 11:44 a.m., Friday, June 29, 2007
State health worker gets enviable title of 'staff surfer'
By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer
In his latest assignment, the Clean Water Branch employee will use a new tool an 11-foot custom surfboard outfitted to monitor for water safety and provide information about the water quality at surf spots.
State health department officials will use the data gathered to help protect Hawai'i's surfers and ocean swimmers. Health Department spokeswoman Janet Smith said the new tool was being announced today at the start of National Clean Beaches Week, June 29-July 5.
She said the unique water study will be used to monitor bacteria levels at selected surf sites on O'ahu. Marvit, and the surfboard tricked out with sampling bottle and water quality monitoring equipment holders, will start with monitoring surf sites Waikiki, in time to catch some of the the summer's south swell.
The branch also conducts regular shoreline water sampling.
"While we have done some surf site sampling before by boat, this new surfboard will let us get samples in the surf zone," said Watson Okubo, Monitoring & Analysis Section Chief, DOH Clean Water Branch.
"Hawai'i's ocean water quality is usually good, and this new tool will help us learn more about the quality of water people play in."
Okubo said ongoing testing and water quality monitoring is essential as the ocean can become polluted by runoff from streams, storm drains and sewage spills.
Of course, the biggest in recent memory was the city's 48 million-gallon spill of raw sewage in the Ala Wai Canal on March 24 which fouled beaches and got surfers, paddlers and others out of the nearby waters for weeks.
To assess bacteria levels at surf sites fronting Waikiki Beach, Marvit will use the surfboard to collect water samples at two surf sites, three times a week, as part of an ongoing special study being done in cooperation with the University of Hawai'i Medical School and the Surfrider Foundation O'ahu Chapter.
"The Department of Health lab will analyze the water samples to determine bacteria levels in the waters of the surf zones. If the levels are high, those using those waters have a greater risk of contracting gastrointestinal sicknesses such as diarrhea," says Okubo.
To notify the public about unsafe water quality, the DOH issues news releases and posts warning messages on the CWB Web site at http://emdweb.doh.hawaii.gov/CleanWaterBranch/CurrentWarnings/default.aspx.
The public can also check on the status of water at Hawai'i's beaches any time by phoning the DOH Clean Water Branch Hotline and get a recorded message at 586-5826. This 24-hour number provides a daily report on contamination warnings and advisories. The public can also check on safety-hazard issues of beaches in Hawai'i by going to; www.hawaiibeachsafety.org.
Reach Robbie Dingeman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 535-2429.