Sunday, 11 September 2011

Today's Seawater Forecast: A Little Bit Shitty

Dear blog-botherers, I am not right today. Before you cry, 'that's normal!' what I mean is that I am a little bit sicky. My insides have not been happy since I came back from Cornwall ten days ago. And you know what this means. I have caught lurgy from swimming in dirty seawater. Again.

This beach is not the culprit.
I love swimming in the sea. I also love body-boarding, because it is one of the only sports where every time you fall off, you land on something soft. I also love Cornwall. Last time I was there I went for a swim at full tide, by evening, in this beautiful bay. The water was warm and there was nobody there except a lovely yacht moored in the bay. It was absolute bliss.

Sadly, the idyllic look disguises the fact that British seawater is basically full of crap. This is the third time in a few years that I have some kind of lurgy caught from being in the water. First time I had some kind of horrid hacking cough that lasted six weeks. Next, after a trip to Wales, some kind of rash that got under any scratch or break in my skin (quite a few, after a weekend camping) and turned them into a mess of itchy blisters. I should point out that generally I have the constitution of an ox. I am not the kind of person who faints at the sight of a germ. However, I reckon I get in the sea on average three weekends per year. Over the last five years I have caught something three times, so that means I am catching something unpleasant about 20% of the time.

If you think I'm making this up, try this link, which explains exactly how all this crap ends up in the sea, usually after a bout of heavy rainfall.

One winter I was visiting a friend who runs a hostel on the Cornish coast. Below the hostel, we could see cascades of white, unpleasant looking stuff pouring onto the beach from the river. The hostel is next to a water treatment plant, and there was overflow pouring from that as well, straight down the cliff. My friend and another surfer called the Environment Agency, who are responsible for this kind of pollution. The Environment Agency cheerfully said that they didn't come out to investigate an incident until 12 people had reported it. Now, this was in February, it was pissing it down, there was a gale force wind, and you would have struggled to find 12 people in the vicinity, let alone 12 who were going to phone it in. Obviously, this non-response policy keeps the Environment Agency's statistics a lot cleaner, but it doesn't do much for the seawater.

I am not a scientist, and don't know much about measuring water quality. I do know that everything I've caught has cleared up with antibiotics/antibacterials, which means it's bacterial, not viral. This, as far as I understand, is compatible with either sewage or animal effluents, (from intensive farming).

The beach where I caught several of these interesting ailments is a popular tourist destination. In summer, there are hundreds of people dunking their children in the seawater. Many of those people probably nuke their homes with all kinds of bleach and anti-bacterial sprays. I wonder if they know that they're basically dunking their beloved offspring into a very diluted solution of shite.

I don't know what we should do about this, seeing as how the Environment Agency seem more concerned for their statistics than for people's health, but I do suggest joining Surfers Against Sewage, a really good charity, who campaign on all these issues, not just for surfers.

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