Swim advisories issued along Grand Strand beaches often are picked up by media outlets in other states, including Knoxville, Tennessee, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Mark Kruea, Myrtle Beach city spokesman, said the outlets outside of the area often do not understand what swim advisories mean, and officials receive phone calls to see if beaches in the city are closed.
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“We’re getting phone calls from visitors that say, ‘I’m coming down in late July, will I be able to get in the ocean?’” Kruea said.
The initial message concerning advisories loses context the further from the beach it goes, he said. Now, city officials are working with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to better explain swim advisories.
The problem is when media outlets generalize Grand Strand beaches as Myrtle Beach instead of specifying North Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach or Garden City. Outlets rarely follow up on reports when advisories are lifted, he said.
“If it’s Surfside Beach, they’re not going to say Surfside Beach in Pittsburgh, they’re gonna say Myrtle Beach in Pittsburgh,” Kruea said. “So, that distinction gets lost, and DHEC does a good job of identifying the exact location, but it’s not always reported that way, nor is it always understood that way.”
However, it does appear recent reports from TV stations in Pittsburgh specified locations, including North Myrtle Beach and Surfside.
One report from the Knoxville News Sentinel updated an article when the advisories were lifted and gave the reason behind the higher levels.
“I guess it was a Charlotte station that actually used a graphic that said no swimming,” Kruea said. “It’s a swimming advisory, it actually doesn’t prohibit swimming. Swimming’s just not recommended.”
Diana Greene, executive vice president of business development at the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said officials at the chamber worked to create talking points to help clear up confusion regarding swim advisories.
“What we have to do is actually go through, and we just try to provide the facts to them and we put information up on our website,” Greene said. “We send out talking points to our members, as well, to help them should they get any folks that are asking them questions here locally.”
The information works to define what a swim advisory means so visitors “can make an educated decision as to whether or not they wish to swim in that area or if they want to avoid it,” Greene said.
According to Adrianna Bradley, public information officer for DHEC, the department is not concerned about the number of advisories issued along the Grand Strand.
“On the coast, it is not uncommon for the typical afternoon shower to pop up and move off the beach to the ocean,” Bradley said. “These types of rain events can cause a temporary localized advisory to occur in the area where runoff discharges to the beach.”
According to DHEC, a swimming advisory means people can still wade in the water, but those with open wounds or cuts should not go into the ocean. When an advisory is issued, it spans for 200 feet of the beach.
The advisory is issued when the ETCOC, short for enterococcus bacteria, measurement is higher than the accepted standard, according to DHEC. The bacteria is found in the intestinal tracts of people, pets and wildlife.
High levels of ETCOC can indicate if fecal matter is possibly contaminating water sources, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and shows if viruses and bacteria are present in the water.
How is the city working with DHEC?
Moving forward, Kruea said city officials are working with DHEC to change the wording of the advisories.
“We’ve talked with DHEC about ways we can get the proper message out there, and some of the suggestions were well, let’s call it a short-term advisory, because that’s what it is,” Kruea said.
Updates to the advisories were based on frequently asked questions by reporters, according to Erica Knight, director of internal communications at DHEC.
The changes include adding “short-term” before swim advisory, putting the name of the city before street names, writing a paragraph to explain what an advisory is and describing the type of bacteria DHEC tests for and why.
Kruea said the changes also will work to quantify the length of beach involved in an advisory.