Sampling study shows little water contamination in and around Atlantic Beach

A canal runs past waterfront lots in Atlantic Beach Tuesday. The town recently heard the results of a sampling study that found little fecal contamination in area water bodies. (Mike Shutak photo)

ATLANTIC BEACH — After sampling water quality several times this spring and summer, local researchers haven’t seen any significant fecal water contamination problem in bodies around Atlantic Beach.

The Atlantic Beach Town Council met Monday for its regular meeting in the town hall meeting room on West Fort Macon Road and received a report from UNC Institute of Marine Sciences research specialist Denene Blackwood on the study. The presentation focused on the results of water sampling performed from March to early July in town to review fecal water contamination.

“We’re not seeing a fecal contamination problem,” Ms. Blackwood said. “It doesn’t look like there’s a consistent source of fecal contamination in your waters.”

The initial sampling program began in 2018, with a focus on the canals in Atlantic Beach. Ms. Blackwood said in the beginning, their sampling focused on testing for bacteria traditionally used by state agencies as indicators of contamination, such as e. coli and fecal coliform. This year, researchers also tested for additional marker bacteria that help indicate potential sources of contamination, including birds, human waste and sewage discharges.

A total of 30 samples were taken, of which Ms. Blackwood said four, or 13%, exceeded the state’s threshold to require a water-quality alert for swimming.

Ms. Blackwood went on to say only one sample, taken at the Al Williams boat ramp, tested positive for the human bacteria markers. About 21 tests, however, were positive for sewer bacteria markers, which she said could indicate leaking septic tanks, though the results weren’t conclusive.

“We’re a little cautious of the results,” she said. “It could be from runoff. It’s hard to elucidate with the limited sampling and resources we have.”

The council seemed pleased with the results of this year’s sampling.

“Generally this is good news,” Mayor Trace Cooper said. “I’m surprised the weir didn’t hit the (state) threshold more often.”

The weir the mayor was referring to is a stormwater drainage system installed just off Old Causeway Road.

In other news at the meeting, Mr. Cooper discussed with the council creating a memorial program for the new town public safety and administration complex. As of Tuesday, the complex is still under construction at 125 West Fort Macon Road, with plans to plant 16 mature live oak trees at the property.

The mayor said he’s spoken with the family of John Rivers, a former councilman who died Sept. 9. Mr. Rivers’ family has expressed interest in having a memorial for him at the new complex, so Mr. Cooper suggested Monday asking the family to fund a memorial tree with a plaque.

“A mature live oak tree will last longer than a park bench will,” he said.

The council expressed support for the proposal, though no formal action was taken Monday.

Councilman Rich Johnson said he think this is an “appropriate” memorial for Mr. Rivers, though he and the other councilmen seemed to agree they should limit these memorials to just the planned 16 oaks and only for memorializing people who’ve died, not dedicating them to businesses or other entities.

“My concern is if we ever in a situation where we have to say no,” Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Cooper said he’d support accepting memorial funding offers on a first-come, first-served basis.

At Monday’s meeting, the council also:

  • Unanimously adopted a resolution of appreciation for Debbie Younce, who after 34 years is retiring from her position as public services senior equipment operator Wednesday, Dec. 1.
  • Unanimously approved the consent agenda, including a resolution authorizing local government execution of a $146,576 N.C. Coastal Area Management Act Grant for repairs to the east public beach access next to the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel.
  • Unanimously rescheduled the regular meeting in December to Monday, Dec. 13.


Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.

(2) comments

David Collins

No significant , depends what one calls significant !

Boat ramps are where some folks chose to empty out their portable potties . Yeah , it happens . Leaky septic systems , well , they are made to leak by design . Few ever have then properly serviced until an OOPS moment arrives , usually on a weekend . Housing way too many poopers , for increased rental income of course , just adds to the problem .


AHEm, 30 samples taken 21 positive for fecal contamination, maybe from septic tanks, maybe not. only one test above what the state threshold is.

This article is cast as positive, good news for local waters? 63% of tests have fecal contamination. This reminds me of a river in subic bay.

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