"It only takes 10 seconds to check"

By Kelvin McDonald
Marcellus Cook (Ngāti Kuri, Ngāpuhi) fresh from a swim at Point Chevalier Beach in Auckland.  Photo/File

Before you head to the beach in Auckland this summer, take a few seconds to check Safeswim. It could be the difference between getting sick (or into trouble in the water) or not.

While a lot of effort has gone into cleaning up Auckland's beaches, the water quality can still be poor at some of the city's swimming spots, even at a beach you usually think is safe.

Marcellus Cook (Ngāti Kuri, Ngāpuhi) came to Point Chevalier Beach in inner-city Auckland with his friends and whānau for a "quick look at the beach and a quick swim." 

"Jumped in for 20 minutes and just jumped out now. It was beautiful."

He lives nearby in Mt Eden but has never been to this beach before. Cook, who is originally from Kaitaia, says he was shocked to discover there is sometimes a high risk of illness swimming here. 

"No, I was not aware at all. Not at all, wow!"

Safeswim

Auckland Council is encouraging beach-goers to check the conditions on safeswim.org.nz before heading off for a swim.

The Safeswim website provides real-time information about water quality, beach conditions and hazards for more than 100 beaches across Auckland.

"I’d recommend that people check the site every time they want to go to the beach, preferably at home before they make the decision about which beach to go to," Safeswim programme manager Nick Vigar says.

The green pin on Safeswim indicates 'low risk of illness from swimming'.  Photo/Safeswim

"Auckland can get very localised rainfall, so it could be the case that where you are is dry but the beach you want to go to has received rainfall and has become high risk because of it (the red pin on Safeswim)." 

Cook says he will be checking in future, "I think I'm definitely going to do that before going for a swim."

Check when it rains, but also in dry weather

Damian Gavin has lived next door to Point Chevalier Beach for 32 years and swims almost all year round, "I swim about seven months of the year while it's warm enough."

Point Chevalier local Damian Gavin after his swim, "I feel refreshed. Ready for my lunch now."  Photo/File

He checks Safeswim regularly, "I check every time there's been heavy rain and make sure the beach has been given a clearance before I go into the water. It usually requires about 48 hours of about four or five, six tidal changes so the water is running all-clear by that time."

Vigar says, "The old guidance of 48 hours after heavy rain is a pretty rough rule of thumb. People are best to check the website – every beach is different.

"A beach like Cheltenham Beach (in Devonport), which gets huge tidal flows, will clear much quicker than St Mary’s Bay which is very enclosed and actually takes multiple tidal cycles to clear."

He says rainfall does raise the risk levels for illness from swimming but people should check Safeswim even when it is dry, "It is true that the high-risk conditions are generally associated with rainfall but I’d recommend that people check in dry weather also. 

"Wastewater overflows (the black pin on Safeswim) can happen in dry weather due to network faults.  Also hazard alerts (the orange diamond on Safeswim) can be raised for any one of a number of things (e.g. dangerous rips at a patrolled beach, poisonous jellyfish, sharks, etc) – these are unrelated to rainfall, he says.  

"I note that recently we placed a hazard alert on St Mary’s Bay due to concerns around the toxicity of discharges from the firefighting efforts on the (Sky City) convention centre – all unrelated to rainfall."

A day on which the red pin on Safeswim indicated a 'high risk of illness from swimming' at Point Chevalier Beach. The black pin (top right) at Home Bay Beach signifies 'very high risk of illness from swimming'. Auckland Council recommends checking the website every time you want to go to the beach.  Photo/Safeswim

It only takes 10 seconds, it could save your life

"A beach is never entirely safe, even in apparently perfect conditions," Vigar says. "Safeswim aims to put all the information you need to be informed about risks and conditions in one handy place so you can make an informed decision.  

"It only takes 10 seconds to check Safeswim on your cellphone. That 10 seconds could potentially save the life of you or someone in your family."