BLOG

A team of researchers from Surfing Medicine International 501(c)(3), University of Hawaii Manoa, University of California Davis, and University of Nevada Reno have determined that a reduction in stream tree canopy significantly increases fecal bacteria in tropical island surface waters.

This may not sound like groundbreaking science, but it contradicts what the Hawaii State Department of Health (HI DOH) has been saying for years—claiming the fecal bacteria in its water was “naturally occurring” in the soil. 

Thereby keeping beaches open that contained unsafe levels of fecal bacteria, because according to the USEPA, fecal bacteria cause increased incidence rates of gastrointestinal illness in people when the USEPA guidelines are exceeded in marine and fresh waters.

According to the researchers, the new study contradicts previous findings and claims made by the HI DOH, and also contradicts peer reviewed research previously published by Dr. Roger Fujioka of the Water Resources Research Center of the University of Hawaii. In 1986, the USEPA created guidelines for fecal bacteria concentrations in surface water so that all U.S. territories and States could warn the public when marine and fresh waters are contaminated with human and animal feces.

But, Dr. Fujioka and HI DOH claim that fecal bacteria concentrations in tropical island stream water come from soil, and not from human or animal feces, and that tropical islands do not have to rely on or enforce USEPA guidelines for marine or fresh waters.

Meantime, USEPA water quality fecal bacteria guidelines have been ignored in tropical island marine and fresh water used to grow crops. The new research (attached to this email as a PDF file) findings published this month online at Journal of Ecohealth shows that fecal bacteria in tropical island surface water are not associated with the soil, and found in very high numbers in feces.  

“Our work was conducted at a watershed scale on the North Side of the rural tropical island Kaua‘i to determine sources of USEPA’s recommended fecal bacteria,” says corresponding author Guy Ragosta, Watershed Manager of Surfing Medicine International.

“Since presence of feces in surface water is directly correlated with increased incidence rates of gastrointestinal illness associated with recreational contact according to the USEPA, we felt it was necessary to collect data from uninhabited heavily forested areas of a rural tropical island stream on North Side Kaua‘i.

A lot of HI DOH's claims to not follow USEPA fecal bacteria guidelines are based on peer reviewed data collected in degraded ecosystems like Honolulu, one of the most densely populated cities in the U.S. riddled with sewage problems and out of control feral animals dropping feces all over, and in lower elevation Guam which also suffers from human and animal fecal problems.

The reality is that there might be a backlog of unreported gastrointestinal illness since 1986 when USEPA guidelines were established due to multiple tropical islands worldwide not notifying the public when USEPA fecal bacteria guidelines are exceeded in surface waters.”

According to a 2009 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) ‘The HI DOH believes contamination from human sewage is more likely to cause illness than animal feces’.

But, no one in Hawaii or any other tropical island has conducted a thorough scientific and methodical epidemiological investigation to determine human illness incidence rates related to fecal bacteria concentrations in surface water.

In 2008 researchers from Stanford University found evidence in lower elevations of Hanalei watershed of Kaua‘i that indicated some fecal bacteria were from human feces. So, the most current peer reviewed research shows that fecal bacteria in tropical island water is not associated with the soil, but comes from human and animal feces, and that by reducing stream tree canopy, fecal bacteria concentrations in tropical island surface waters increases.

Surfing Medicine International is a 501(c)(3) whose mission is to support, research, and create botanical remedies for human disease and water pollution. For more information or to contact them regarding any concerns, including those about previous illness after using surface waters of tropical islands since 1986, visit their website at: www.surfingmedicine.org Read The Study