Water Sanitation Health

Guidelines for safe recreational water environments
Volume 1 : Coastal and fresh waters

Executive summary

Aesthetic issues

The aesthetic value of recreational waters implies freedom from visible materials that will settle to form objectionable deposits, floating debris, oil, scum and other matter, substances producing objectionable colour, odour, taste or turbidity, and substances and conditions or combinations thereof in concentrations that produce undesirable aquatic life. Clean beaches are one of the prime parameters that are desired by recreational users. Local economies may depend on the aesthetic quality of recreational water areas, and the environmental degradation of beaches is known to lead to loss of income from tourism.

Water at swimming areas should ideally be clear enough for users to estimate depth, to see subsurface hazards easily and to detect the submerged bodies of swimmers or divers who may be in difficulty. Aside from the safety factor, clear water fosters enjoyment of the aquatic environment. The principal factors affecting the depth of light penetration in natural waters include suspended microscopic plants and animals, suspended mineral particles, stains that impart a colour, detergent foams and dense mats of floating and suspended debris.

Visitor enjoyment of any beach is generally marred by litter. The variety of litter found in recreational water or washed up on the beach is considerable and includes, for example, discarded food/wrapping, bottles/cans, cigarette butts, dead fish, discarded condoms, discarded sanitary towels, and syringes, needles and other medical wastes. Unlike most litter, medical waste and broken glass also represent hazards to health. Objectionable smells associated with untreated sewage effluent, decaying organic matter such as vegetation, dead animals or fish, and discharged diesel oil or petrol can deter recreational water and bathing beach users. Odour thresholds and their association with the concentrations of different pollutants of the recreational water environment have not, however, been determined. Marine debris monitoring can be used to provide information on the types, quantities and distribution of marine debris, to identify sources of marine debris, to explore public health issues relating to marine debris and to increase public awareness of the condition of the coastline. Management options include manual or mechanical beach cleaning.