Bacteria on Maui beaches low, says report

Maui County beaches have some of the state’s lowest bacteria contamination rates, with only 2 percent of surveyed Valley Isle beaches exceeding the state’s daily maximum bacterial standards, according to a report released Wednesday.

The Natural Resources Defense Council said that Hawaii County also had only 2 percent of its surveyed beaches go beyond the allowed standards. Kauai County had the highest rate in the state with 7 percent and Oahu had a 3 percent rate. All percentages were derived from 2012 sample testing data.

NRDC is an international nonprofit environmental organization with 1.4 million members and online activists. It issued its annual beach report Wednesday. High bacteria levels in water indicate the presence of human or animal waste, with storm water runoff identified as the highest known source of this pollution, the report said.

Overall, Hawaii ranked fourth in beach water quality out of 30 states, with 4 percent of samples exceeding national standards of designated beach areas in 2012. In all, Hawaii reported counting 470 coastal beaches and beach segments, although not all beaches were sampled.

“I still think our beaches are some of the better in the nation,” said Dale Mikami, of the state Department of Health’s Clean Water Branch.

The report details water quality findings from some of the country’s best beaches and describes best practices for testing and public notification. No Hawaii beaches made the list, but states that had beaches on the list include Alabama, California, Delaware, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota and New Hampshire.

States that made the “repeat offenders” list for having persistent contamination problems included California, Indiana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin. Hawaii did not have any beaches on the repeat offenders list.

In Maui County, beaches that were sampled and had incidents of exceeding the state’s daily maximum bacterial standards were: Hanakao’o Beach Park, Honolua Bay, Kahului Harbor, Kahana, Kamaole Beach Park I, Kanaha Beach Park, Maliko Bay, Olowalu, Puamana Beach Park and the Kihei beach near St. Theresa Church.

Some of the beaches that had more than the allowable amount of bacterial levels may have been tested twice or several times over the last year, such as Honolua Bay. One out of two samples taken from the bay exceeded standards, giving it a 50 percent violation rate.

But the low number of test samples may not give an accurate account of the health of the water, officials said.

“If you have only a little amount of samples, it will look at lot worse,” Mikami said. “You can’t really make any kind of conclusion out of that. At that point, it’s just a roll of the dice.”

According to the report, beach water pollution causes a range of waterborne illnesses in swimmers, including stomach flu; skin rashes; pinkeye; ear, nose and throat problems; dysentery; hepatitis; respiratory ailments; neurological disorders; and other serious health problems.

In Hawaii, the number of water samples taken at each beach site varies according to risks of illness to swimmers and frequency of use, according to the report. The beaches that attract the most people that could be affected by bacteria are some of the most tested by the state Department of Health’s Clean Water Branch.

The most frequently tested beaches in 2012 on Maui include Kamaole Beach Park I, which had 81 samples taken, usually twice a week. Out of the 81 samples, only 1 percent exceeded state standards for bacteria.

Another highly sampled beach was the area near St. Theresa Church in Kihei where 80 samples were taken, with 1 percent of the samples showing that water quality exceeded allowable bacteria standards.

Highly used Hanakao’o Beach Park in Kaanapali was sampled 71 times, with a 3 percent rate of going beyond acceptable standards. Kahului Harbor was sampled 73 times, with a 4 percent rate.

Samples are taken 1 foot below the surface in water that is knee to waist deep. Monitoring is done year-round in Hawaii, the report said.

Mikami said it usually takes a day to get results from water sampling tests. If results show that the water exceeds the daily allowable bacteria standards, supervisors are notified and protocols are followed. Those include taking another sample the next possible day.

“Most of the time, it will come back clean,” Mikami said.

Overall last year, no beaches in Maui County were closed or had any advisory days because of pollution, the report shows.

The state Department of Health does not have the authority to close beaches. Instead, it issues warnings when bacteria levels exceed limits or when there are sewage or storm water advisories.

To view the full report, go online to

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at