Tuesday, November 08, 2011

A Walpole Bay Water Mystery

Perhaps I should have change the title to 'Seaweed Matters' but for anyone interested in understanding more about the Environment Agency (EA) report on Walpole Bay, which figured in today's local news, here's a link to the interview I gave BBC Radio Kent this morning. (2:40 into the programme at 08:40)

Today's report appears to be a mystery of sorts and I'm waiting, with keen interest to see what the EA report identifies, scientifically, as the source of seawater contamination they refer to, beyond a speculative association with a seaweed build-up this summer. At any one time, we had as much as 2,000, tons of seaweed spreading across our beaches, more than anywhere else, I'm told in the country.

What we didn't hear on the news today, which only focused on the unusual reading from one beach, is that results show that water quality has significantly improved across the whole of Thanet. According to the Environment Agency the sea water quality around our beaches is excellent and has vastly improved. Not only have we exceeded their requirements by the minimum standards but have passed by European standards and that's something to be proud of.

With this in mind and on the basis of our improved water quality results we will be in a position to apply for a significantly higher number of blue flags in future, which is good news.

So back to Walpole Bay, where I once worked stacking deck chairs as a teenager and I have yet to see the evidence on which the EA report is based and I look forward to receiving as soon as possible.

As I say in the interview, it seems unlikely in my mind to be caused solely by the seaweed in the bay. As readers will know, seaweed in large quantities each summer, is prevalent in our waters across the whole of the district, and even more so in other areas outside of Walpole Bay, where beaches with more seaweed have water quality results are not just ‘standard’ but ‘excellent’.

So, I suspect the results are related to something else that the council is not aware of, as if it was purely down to seaweed then surely other areas, such as my own bay at St Mildreds would have been affected.

In answer to Tweets and questions I've had since this morning, although seaweed is removed from other bays, the council is unable to remove all of it due to the extremely high levels we receive on our coast line and one way of dealing with this is to push the seaweed back out into the sea as this is a natural and sustainable way of removing it from the bays. This also happens in other areas where our water quality results are excellent.

It is not unusual for seaweed to be left in an area like Walpole Bay, as the council focuses its resources on the the most popular and priority main bathing/tourist beaches to ensure this is removed as a priority.

As a councillor I have to make often difficult choices and ensure our priority areas are targeted,especially as Thanet receives such an abnormally high level of seaweed across its coast line, which is why, under my instruction, a new strategy document for dealing with this annual challenge is now being completed in advance of the summer of 2012.


Anonymous said...

I hope that in your strategy document you are able to find a way to effectively keep our beaches clear of foul-smelling seaweed during the vital holiday season. Goodness knows what harm has been done to the repuation of our resorts by this year's infestation, which lasted throughout the school holiday period without any sign of attempted clearance in St. Mildred's Bay. I'm afraid any number of blue flags will be hard put to offset the damage that has already been done.

DrM. said...

St Mildreds Bay was cleared on a regular basis and as resources allowed, given our 16 mile sof coastline.

I should know, as I live less than 200 yards from the beach and can see it from my window. So I take a personal interest in its cleanliness, which has been quite outstanding over the summer months!

Anonymous said...

What absolute nonsense! It may have been cleared at times and I may not have seen it happen, but you MUST be aware that the seaweed remained all through the summer holidays. I despaired when I saw holidaymakers having to hold their noses at the stench, guessing that they would be unlikely to return. To refer to this as "outstanding cleanliness" is mind-boggling!

DrM. said...

Well in fact it's true.. the beaches were quite outstandingly clean throughout the summer but strangely enough and at times, were covered with seaweed, which was either removed or moved at regular intervals.

The smell you refer to was caused mainly by the seaweed concentrating around the bay towards Westbrook and on the reef, where the council can't get at it and that was unpleasant but there's little or nothing that can be done about this as Natural England will not allow heavy machinery on our protected reef.

Seaweed has been here as long as I remember and that's over 50 years. the council, works vigorously to remove it or mitigate the problem as it budget and the environment legislation allows and so there is never going to be a perfect solution as costs and quantities are far too high.

Anonymous said...

No the smell I refer to was in St. Mildred's Bay by the slope where I and a few others take our daily dip. The extent of the problem this year was worse than I can remember, and I go back further than your 50 years. My initial reply to your post was one of hope that you would find an effective stratgey to deal with the problem - I'm less hopeful now.

Tony2 said...

Glad to see that this issue has not been put on ice until next year only to face the same problems. In some ways this year we were lucky that the wind was in the right direction when weed was pushed back into the sea. The previous year it all came back and I remember it being as deep as two meters in some places in Walpole bay. We need a long term strategy for this problem. I think it is time to set up a working party of all interested organisations. There is a lot of information and data that needs to be brought to the table and maybe there could be a local solution to this problem. Local knowledge is a powerful tool use it.

Michael Child said...

Simon a couple of thoughts here. One being that I couldn’t find your interview at the time you say in the program, this is probably me being thick and I am sure you will correct me. The other one is the rotting seaweed outside the Turner Contemporary, which I think needs a bit of extra attention from the council. I visited the gallery on numerous occasions during the summer, admittedly often only to take inconvenient children to the convenience there, and the problem is significant. I think in this instance the councils limited resources need to reflect the number of people in this confined area and give it special attention.

DrM. said...

I fear that some people will not be entirely happy whatever future steps and initiatives may be taken.

Let me recap for a moment.

Firstly the council has very limited choices in what it can do with any of the seaweed that it is permitted to remove from the beaches under EA legislation.

Secondly, to quote the outgoing Secretary to the Treasury in the last Government, 'There is no money' and all local authorities are working to the tightest budgets in living memory.

Finally, the tonnage of seaweed is so great that even if a secret millionaire appeared and wrote a very large cheque indeed, we still couldn't move it off the reefs between the bays, where it settles in large piles unless this was accomplished by hand.

So, in summary, we need to focus our efforts and intelligently manage what we can and within the limited budgets we have available for the task.

DrM. said...


Find 8:40 in the programme, just after the sports news!

Michael Child said...

Simon it was me being particularly thick I followed the time indicator to 2.40 i.e. 2 mins 40 secs instead of to 2.41.00 2 hours 40 mins.

Just listened to it, and have to say well done that man, accurate and sensible information.

The seaweed would have had to have evolved into something pretty unusual to produce the faecal coliforms and faecal streptococci found in the tests, I would think the main problem would be getting your leg bitten off while walking through it.

Perhaps any investigation should look about a mile due east of Walpole Bay at the outfall pipe for the Weatherlees sewage treatment outfall pipe.

Anonymous said...

you might think the beaches are clean is that why we lost our blue flags

DrM. said...

Rather than revisit old ground, I suggest you look it up. The reasons are quite clear. Don't confuse sea water quality and Blue Flags, which invariably lies with Southern Water and historical issues surrounding discharges, heavy rains flash flooding etc with the cleanliness of our beaches.