Scientists will resume testing the waters off Kenai beaches to see whether efforts aimed at reducing fecal bacteria have been working.
Fecal coliform and enterococci, which grow in the intestines of most animals, have been found to exceed the standards set by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation for several summers in the area, the Peninsula Clarion reported this week.
The department has monitored the bacteria off Kenai annually from 2010 to 2014.
The conservation nonprofit Kenai Watershed Forum, which conducted previous testing on behalf of the department, found that gulls were the major contributor of the bacteria, which is often found alongside more harmful pathogens.
“[Gulls] are attracted to the beach because of a fairly unnatural food source,” said Branden Bornemann, a forum environmental scientist. “All these salmon carcasses wouldn’t normally be there. And the gulls are what we’re seeing is the highest bacteria input into these samples.”
The city of Kenai began requiring dipnetters in 2013 to toss fish waste into the water or remove it from the beach.
The department had paused bacteria sampling to see the effects of the city action, said Jeanne Swartz, an environmental program specialist for the department.
“We’ve been focused on remediation effects, management practices and outreach the last couple of years — giving it time to get established, and then going back this year to see if we were successful in reducing the bacteria amounts,” Swartz said.
The scientists intend to see with the new testing if the reduction of fish waste on the beaches has decreased the number of seagull visits, thus leading to a reduction in bacteria.