Bacteria Monitoring

For nearly 20 years, the Shaw Institute has monitored beaches on the Blue Hill Peninsula for Enterococci contamination, which indicates the presence of potentially harmful fecal bacteria. We also sample for phytoplankton associated with algal blooms (HABs), such as red tide, which are also toxic to people and ocean life.

Swimming-associated illness is a public health issue in Maine with its long coastline and recreational beaches. Unfortunately, many local swimming beaches do not qualify for participation in private or government agency programs that test for water quality. The Shaw Institute is the only organization that monitors smaller beaches on the Blue Hill Peninsula as part of its ongoing monitoring program. It maintains the program as part of its commitment to community service. Long-term data sets like this also help us to better understand the impacts of climate change.

Why We Test

Enterococci bacteria in marine or fresh water are an indicator of fecal bacteria (or FIB) contamination. In most cases, exposure results in minor health issues. However, exposure at higher levels can lead to serious conditions, especially in young swimmers, people with weakened immune systems, or pregnant women. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, ear infections, and fever.

Short term benefits: Safe beaches for all

Long term benefits: Ability to study effects of climate change on bacteria populations

Where We Test for Harmful Bacteria

Shaw Institute currently monitors bacteria levels and phytoplankton associated with harmful algal blooms (HABs) 1-2 times per week at four popular local swimming beaches to measure contamination and to obtain a detailed picture of seasonal patterns. The beaches are Blue Hill Town Park (Blue Hill), Peters Cove (Blue Hill), Curtis Cove (East Blue Hill), and Carrying Place (Surry). 

Testing takes place in the summer between May and September.

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Beach Bacteria Reports

The Shaw Institute follows stringent protocols from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Maine Healthy Beaches, for both sampling and processing of bacteria samples. We combine data with forecasted weather events in our weekly reports. Please contact us if you would like to receive these reports by email.

Contact us for historical data, or if you're interested in testing your area.


Research Staff

Charles Rolsky, Ph.D.
Executive Director & Senior Research Scientist

Michelle Berger, MA, GCPH
Associate Scientist