Fecal indicator bacteria levels at beaches in the Florida Keys after Hurricane Irma

Matthew A. Roca, R. Stephen Brown, Helena M. Solo-Gabriele

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Hurricanes cause infrastructure failures which can lead to contamination of impacted areas. The objective of the current study was to evaluate whether Hurricane Irma contributed towards sewage contamination of coastal beaches. Through this study we evaluated indicators of fecal pollution (fecal indicator bacteria [FIB], enterococci and fecal coliform) and physico-chemical parameters (salinity, pH, turbidity, and temperature) in coastal waters of the Florida Keys shortly after the hurricane. To augment available county sampling data, two sets of sampling efforts were conducted; one focused on collecting samples spatially throughout the Keys to assess whether areas closer to hurricane landfall were more highly impacted. The second was to collect temporally intensive samples at one location during falling tide to evaluate the hypothesis of groundwater contamination. Samples were analyzed for FIB using a new method called timed appearance of culture signal (TACS), which was subsequently calibrated using traditional membrane filter and chromogenic substrate methods. Results showed that coastal beach waters were characterized by elevated but sporadic levels of fecal indicator bacteria up to two months after the hurricane. Spikes were not correlated with physico-chemical characteristics of the water. Our temporally intensive sampling effort did not support the hypothesis that groundwater was a source of elevated FIB. Competing factors could have played a role in the sporadic nature of the FIB levels after the hurricane. We suggest that beach erosion may have flushed out sediments at beaches closer to the hurricane landfall location thereby improving water quality during dry conditions. We also suggest that during wet conditions a source of FIB could include runoff from debris staging areas. Preemptive beach closures immediately after the hurricane were justified due to the sporadic nature of FIB contamination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)266-273
Number of pages8
JournalMarine Pollution Bulletin
StatePublished - Jan 2019


  • Enterococci
  • Fecal coliform
  • Fecal indicator bacteria
  • Hurricane Irma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Pollution


Dive into the research topics of 'Fecal indicator bacteria levels at beaches in the Florida Keys after Hurricane Irma'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this