Safeswim's new, improved Auckland dirty beaches tool

An improved version of the Safeswim website is back this summer to help Auckland beachgoers avoid dirty faecal-contaminated beaches.

It comes after testing last summer revealed only two beaches from the 84 tested were given a green rating all summer long - Bethells Beach and North Piha.

Takapuna Beach was deemed unsafe for swimming for almost a third of that period due to potential exposure to human and animal waste.

Auckland Council is adding up to 40 new sites to its monitoring by the end of summer, and says its making progress on the quality of water at our beaches.

"In October we were able to tell Aucklanders that four beaches in the Manukau Harbour which have been no-go areas, some of them for the past 20 years, are now open for summer," Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says.

"Swimming at our beaches is at the heart of a Kiwi summer. Our work over the next ten years will restore our beaches as safe places to swim for the people of Auckland."

Using real-time, modelled data, Safeswim shows that when it rains the water quality at some of Auckland's beaches can be affected by contamination. The main risk is from "faecal contamination", often caused by problems with the wastewater system.

The current alerts across Auckland.
The current alerts across Auckland. Photo credit: Safeswim / Screenshot

When contaminated by human or animal faeces, the water can contain disease-causing bacteria, viruses and protozoa (such as salmonella, campylobacter or giardia). These can cause illnesses including gastroenteritis, respiratory illness, ear and eye infections and skin infections.

"We are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to address the problem through a new targeted rate that will clean up Auckland's beaches in ten years rather than the 30 years it was going to take," Mayor Goff says.

"Much of this rate will be spent on the western isthmus area to support Watercare's investment including its central interceptor project."

The new website uses an upgraded colour system - a 'green' water droplet icon for compliant beaches and a 'red' water droplet icon for non-compliant beaches.

A 'black' water droplet icon has been added to warn when there's been an overflow from the Watercare wastewater network. Wastewater overflows have a significantly higher public health risk than general stormwater contamination.

And a new 'orange' diamond safety alert has been added to identify a range of physical beach hazards.

"This tool is great news for anyone who enjoys the beach; it's really easy to use to find out before you head out how your favourite spot is faring, and we'd urge Aucklanders to make use of the online service," Safeswim's programme manager Nick Viga adds.