Covid-19: Surf spray and sewage spills threaten beach safety

April 6, 2020 | Surfing
Beaches: the breaking of the waves could spread Covid-19 farther | Photo: Van Der Werf/Creative Commons

Are you a surfer or an outdoor enthusiast? Do you think it's safe to surf and exercise in open spaces? Think twice. That's wrong, and you're not helping.

The world is at war with an invisible and highly intelligent virus. The novel coronavirus Covid-19 spreads quickly and is extremely deadly.

Some people think that they're smarter than everyone else. "If no one's surfing, why can't I paddle out?"

The answer is really simple - if everybody thinks like you, we're putting our and other people's lives in jeopardy.

That's why we all need to do our part and respect the local, regional, and national interests and guidelines if we really want to beat Covid-19 and resume our lives.

The number one rule is clear: don't leave the house unless you absolutely have to. And don't go surfing.

"Surfers say that they're safe if they stay six feet away from other people. But that would only be true if the air didn't move," notes Kimberly Prather, a climate and atmospheric scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

"In reality, there's always a breeze or wind at the coastline. As a result, small drops of coronavirus float in the air and get blown around."

"The coronavirus Covid-19 is extremely contagious. If one doesn't care about his own life, that's one thing. But this is a matter of life or death to other people."

It's Like Avoiding Cigarette Smoke

The San Diego scientist underlines that it's nearly impossible to avoid an airborne virus. It is actually similar to avoiding cigarette smoke.

As a result, California beaches could be one of the most dangerous places to be during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Prather has been studying the behavior of bacteria and viruses in the shoreline for a while and believes that Covid-19 is light enough to float through the air much farther than everyone thinks.

The Santa Rosa-born professor stresses that the six-foot rule is not valid in coastal areas, especially at the beach and in the surf zone.

The spray released by the breaking of a wave sends particles soaring through the air, which, boosted by coastal winds, can travel dozens of yards.

"It's a silent killer - you can't see it or smell it," adds Prather.

Sewage: the novel coronavirus Covid-19 could enter the ocean via sewage spills, and then re-enter the atmosphere through evaporation | Photo: Creative Commons

From Sewage to Ocean to Atmosphere

Surfers and joggers have already been fined; sportspeople have already been infected. Self-isolation and social distancing are critical variables in this medium-term battle.

The researcher also fears that - because coronaviruses can be excreted in fecal matter - SARS-CoV-2 could enter the ocean via sewage spills, and then re-enter the atmosphere through evaporation.

Recent studies indicate that, when suspended in a mist, coronaviruses remain infectious for between 30 minutes and three hours.

Finally, remember that Covid-19 will not only spread through respiratory droplets, sneezes, coughs, and contaminated surfaces.

Whenever you talk, sing, or breather, you could be infecting your loved ones.

So, do your part. Stay home and help beat this tragic and global pandemic.

Surfrider Foundation: Check Water Quality

The Surfrider Foundation is also gathering data on emerging community and science concerns to keep the beachgoing public safe and informed.

Mixed sewage and rainfall runoff overflows from leaking pipes and manholes into nearby streams - like oceans and rivers - rather than backing up into homes and businesses.

If Covid-19-infected feces reach the ocean, surfers could be at risk.

"We urge surfers to check their local beach water quality before heading to the beach, as high bacteria is an indication of raw or undertreated sewage in the water."

In Europe, countries like Portugal, France, Italy, Spain decided to close beaches. Australia's most popular sand strips are also sealed off with police tape.

In the United States, public might not be able to step on several beaches across California, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Minneapolis, and US Virgin Islands. 

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