State detects higher levels of bacteria at South Beach

Aug 13, 2021

The Department of Environmental Conservation often finds high levels of bacteria at the north and south beaches in July, during dipnetting season. DEC is monitoring bacteria levels at both beaches all summer.
Credit Redoubt Reporter file photo

Kenai’s South Beach is seeing higher-than-normal levels of bacteria, likely due to the abundance of seagulls and fish carcasses on the beach.

Laura Eldred is an environmental program specialist with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. She said beach-goers should take some precautions to avoid getting sick but the high levels of bacteria aren’t cause for major alarm.

"While we sent out a notification that it was elevated, we’re not overly concerned about it, mostly because we noticed that there were quite a few gulls at the beach that were going after fish carcasses," she said.

The Department of Environmental Conservation has been monitoring the beaches in Kenai for a decade. It collects samples every other week in the summer and sends those samples to a lab in Anchorage, where they’re measured against a statewide baseline.

The department usually sees high levels of bacteria in July, when there’s an influx of dip-netters and when it’s nesting time for the nearby gull rookery. The most recent samples, taken Monday, came up a little above the state-allowed limit.

Eldred said the high number of fish carcasses in the area are likely to blame.

“So something that can help keep these beaches cleaner and reduce bacteria levels is to properly dispose of fish carcasses and also to pick up after your dogs if they’re at the beach," she said. "And to pick up any trash. These are all things that attract different wildlife.”

She suggested avoiding swimming or any other kinds of direct exposure to the water at the beach. If you do swim, she said, make sure you wash off after. 

She said fish caught in the area are safe to eat. But, as always, DEC recommends rinsing them with clean water and cooking them through before eating. 

Eldred said the warning will likely be in place until the end of August.