water quality blog

What is a Swim Advisory?

What is a Swim Advisory?

A Swim Advisory is issued by the Florida Department of Health (DOH) when two consecutive samples from a site monitored by their Florida Healthy Beaches monitoring program reveal exceedances of more than 70 MPN of the fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) enterococci. Read more about this process HERE. After the second exceedance from the same site, DOH lets the local municipality know about a swim advisory for that beach and posts it on their website.  

The local municipality can let the public know about the advisory with a sign at the entrance to the beach, a notification on the Florida Healthy Beaches website, or a press release. Because local municipalities may differ in how they notice swim advisories, Miami Waterkeeper posts all of this information in a standardized and easy to use format in our free Swim Guide app that includes Miami Waterkeeper, DOH, and Surfrider Miami sampling data. Resampling occurs until samples from the site no longer exceed 70 MPN enterococci, and the advisory is lifted. 


If a beach is “red” on Swim Guide, is that the same as a Swim Advisory?

A “red” on Swim Guide is not the same thing as a state-issued Swim Advisory. We are not a governmental organization, and therefore, we cannot issue formal Swim Advisories. The Florida DOH Healthy Beaches program issues no-swim advisories if there are two failed tests in a row at a beach. Miami Waterkeeper will also mark a beach in Swim Guide as red if it fails water quality testing even once. Therefore, you may see a beach listed as "red" in Swim Guide with no state-issued Swim Advisory. 

When our analysis reveals an exceedance of 70 MPN of the fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) enterococci, the beach at which the exceedance occurred will appear “red” on Swim Guide. This advisory is a caution for swimmers to avoid the water in a particular area to avoid exposure to potential pathogens and toxins associated with enterococci.


Is it safe to go to the beach (sand only) during a swim advisory? 

It is unclear whether or not it is safe to be on the sand during a swim advisory. This must be decided at the discretion of the individual. There are many studies that indicate that sand could be the source of enterococci and other pathogens and that these FIBs and pathogens are washed into the water during high tide, flooding, or during wind or rainfall events. However, sand is not monitored for FIBs or other pathogens, so there are no long-term monitoring programs that can provide a definitive answer. 



How can I find out about a swim advisory or failed water quality test in my area? 

When DOH detects two failed water quality tests, they inform the local municipality about the swim advisory. Local municipalities may notice these advisories differently.  That’s why Miami Waterkeeper posts all of this information in a standardized way to Swim Guide. You can find out about an advisory by:

  • Checking your Swim Guide app
  • Visiting the FDOH Florida Healthy Beaches program website HERE 
  • Reading a press release issued by local municipalities
  • Looking for an advisory sign at the beach 


If you’re only testing once a week, how can you be sure the water is clean the rest of the week?

Our results reflect analysis of the water at the location and time of sampling. These results do not indicate FIB levels in the water at times in which we did not sample. Water is dynamic and changes with the tides, winds, temperatures, amounts of rainfall, numbers of people and animals at the beach, etc. We sample once a week, repeating a sample only if the analysis reveals an enterococci exceedance. We’d love to sample more often and in more locations, but to do that, we need increased funding for this important program. If interested, please reach out to [email protected] and find out how to sponsor a monitoring site.


What is “historical status” on Swim Guide? 

When available test results are more than approximately a week old, Swim Guide designates that beach in terms of its "historical status" and will appear a faded color of green, yellow, or red. Beaches with a historical pass rate 95% of the time will be marked as green. Beaches with a historical pass rate of 60%-95% of the time are marked as yellow. Beaches with a historical pass rate of 59% or under will be marked as red. This is to give you a guide about the water quality trends at a given beach, even without a recent test.


What is a special status icon in Swim Guide? 

In a case where a non-bacterial source is compromising water quality, such as a chemical spill, sewage leak, or red tide, a beach may be put into a "special status." In an abundance of caution, we may also mark an area red if a sewage spill is known to have occurred in the vicinity, even before testing results are returned. Sites marked red for “special status” reasons will have a no-swim icon in a red triangle, as opposed to the typical red circle.

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    • Kayla Hauge
      commented 2021-02-09 16:11:02 -0500
      This is awesome!
    • Kayla Hauge
      followed this page 2021-02-09 16:10:53 -0500