A team of researchers at NUI Galway have detected bacteria of risk to public health in bathing waters deemed of good or excellent quality under European standards.
The team is asking people to take the www.nuigalway.ie/bluespaces survey to build a picture of what is stopping people from fully utilising our seas, lakes and rivers and to help identify problem areas.
To coincide with the survey launch, NUI Galway’s Antimicrobial Resistance and Microbial Ecology (ARME) group released new research which reveals the widespread contamination of some recreational waters over several years.
Professor Dearbháile Morris said: “These findings highlight the need to consider revision of current EU bathing water quality monitoring criteria to consider characteristics of the organisms present.”
The ARME research team has today published analyses on 111 samples taken from 50 locations in Galway city and county, Cork city and county and Fingal, Dublin, between 2016 and 2019.
Analysis detected a pathogenic form of E. coli called Shiga-toxigenic E.coli (STEC) which can lead to potentially life-threatening infection in about 10% of cases.
The bacteria was detected in 57% of 84 sea waters where samples were collected – all of which are deemed of good or excellent quality based on current EU bathing water monitoring criteria. STEC was also detected in 78% of the 27 lake and river samples tested.
The nuigalway.ie/bluespaces survey is part of the four year PIER project (Public Health Impact of Exposure to antibiotic Resistance in recreational waters), funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The researchers are asking the public to take the survey to help identify the barriers and enablers for people’s interaction with blue spaces – our beaches, seas, lakes and rivers.
Professor Morris, Principal Investigator on the PIER project, said: “The most recent bathing water quality data reports that 96% of our identified natural bathing waters meets the minimum required standard.
“However, our research has revealed the presence of organisms of public health concern in waters designated as of excellent quality in some cases.
“Other ongoing work in PIER will help us to understand the consequences of exposure to organisms in recreational waters, and combined with the findings of the blue spaces survey, it will help to improve water quality and people’s interactions and experiences.”
NUI Galway researchers will use the findings from the PIER project to create a systems map to identify problem areas, identify and prioritise collaborative change strategies and explore stakeholder engagement opportunities.
Dr Sinead Duane, postdoctoral researcher on the PIER project, said: “Engaging with different types of stakeholders is important, which is why the blue spaces survey encourages everyone to join this conversation. No matter how much or little you engage with our waters, your contribution will help co-design strategies to maintain and protect our waters for future generations.”