As beach season begins, scientists from Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection say the state’s storied coastal beaches are clean and safe for swimming.

The department-managed Maine Healthy Beaches program relies on funding from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and staff support from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension/Sea Grant to monitor recreational water quality and protect public health at Maine’s 61 public access beaches, which comprise more than 30 miles of the state’s coastline.

Beaches are monitored weekly by program volunteers, municipal beach managers and state park employees from Memorial Day through Labor Day, with water samples analyzed for the enterococcus bacteria, which is an indication of the presence of fecal contamination from humans and animals including dogs and waterfowl.

When bacteria levels exceed the EPA established limitations, beach managers in conjunction with program staff will post an advisory –or in worst case scenarios, a closure notice– at all major public access points to the beach and online at to discourage recreational contact because of the increased risk of beach users contracting a waterborne illness.

In 2010, the program reported that beach advisory days were down nearly 20 percent from 2009, with 71 water quality events totaling 207 days of posted advisories.

More than half of the 61 beaches had no water quality issues in 2010 that led to an advisory posting. York County, which boasts the most coastal public beaches in the state, had 20 of its 34 beaches always open last year.

A total of 79 percent of advisories in 2010 were one-day events, with follow-up testing finding that beach water was safe for swimming.

The program has successfully partnered with municipalities and other interested parties to take a proactive approach to identifying and addressing sources of pollution. These special studies can reach far into beach watersheds as rainwater can wash pollutants into rivers and streams before it eventually ends up at the beach.

Last year, elevated levels at beaches in Camden led to intensified monitoring and an educational campaign to convince boat owners to empty their sewage holding tank into a pump-out boat rather than directly into the ocean, work supported by special funding from the EPA. Additional work by state and local officials also led to improvements and repairs to the local sanitary and storm sewer systems eliminating some potential pollutant sources.

Healthy habits for beach goers include avoiding swimming after heavy rainfall; not ingesting beach water; taking children to the bathroom often and utilizing swim diapers; disposing of trash and pet waste properly; and not discharging untreated boat sewage.

For more information about Maine beaches and any posted advisories, visit