Opening access to water: Where are we at ?


The end of lock down signals the reopening of beaches and return to the ocean, but also many questions about health recommendations for Member States. With the covid-19 crisis still very much present, Member States need to adapt and anticipate all contamination risks. A few weeks away from the release of the much-anticipated European report ranking swimming areas, Surfrider Europe makes its final push towards European authorities in the framework of the Bathing Water Directive revision and its informative and awareness work within its community.

A season under high surveillance: a bargain at the dawn of the Bathing Water Directive revision

During May and June, beaches and swimming areas will gradually begin to open to the public. Swimmers and the ocean recreation community will be able to go back to their playground. Public authorities will then have to juggle with hygiene guidelines, physical distancing, influx of users, limited public space, but also territories' economic and social components.

On a European scale, a huge discrepancy in management strategies and arbitration process can be noticed. Very often, the State makes recommendations based on public health authorities and local authorities are left to enforce it.

In Barcelona for instance, it is recommended to open beaches and the ocean on specific time slots to regulate flows. In France, propositions carried by some stakeholders lean towards a dynamic management of beaches and ocean usage. One thing is certain, precautionary principle and physical distancing practices must prevail. Thus, Public Health Authority reminds that promiscuity and questions about environmental persistence of the virus are the major identified risks.

Recommendations to be tested and promoted

This summer, a specific attention will be devoted to the management of swimming and ocean recreation areas. In France, the Director General for Health asked the French Public Health Council to propose management measures such as strictly enforcing physical distancing guidelines, closely watching out for fecal pollutions and strengthening control and analysis.

On Monday 18 May, the IFREMER study did not show any Covid in the water or in the filter-feeding shellfish. It is interesting to continue this kind of studies and to encourage research to invest in sanitary and medical through the prism, environmental studies.

Surfrider Europe thus asks for better quality follow-up of swimming areas, with not only more frequent analysis but also throughout the whole year. It is also suited to include ocean recreation areas in the upcoming regulation to benefit from monitoring and further information. Surfrider Europe also works to improve and harmonize users’ information on water quality based on reviews and requests from the 2019 "Voice for the Ocean" European consultation. Lastly, as stated by the last report issued by WHO, it is very important to consider “new parameters”. Thus, a specific focus will be made on monitoring algae, algal bloom and associated risks.

Now is a prime opportunitiy to be proactive regarding research on developing innovative monitoring methodologies (virus or bacteria indicators) as well as chemical toxic substances and their associated risks. If precautionary principal needs to be called for, following basic recommendations about covid-19, medical and scientific knowledge are also required. Scientific data would allow local, national and European decision-makers to legislate based on solid grounds in order to guarantee safe ocean access for swimmers and recreational ocean communities.

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