Clearwater, Florida -- The Bay Area is known for its beautiful beaches. In the past, Siesta Beach, Caladesi Island and Fort De Soto Park have all been named "America's Best Beach" by Dr. Beach.
Patrick Pratico and his family, from London, Ontario, were recently visiting Clearwater Beach.
"The beaches are very clean, seem very safe to swim in," he said. "Just by looking around, the nature of the beach, I have no fear to swim in it."
But sometimes, the look of the water may not reveal everything. Even if the water looks crystal clear, it could contain bacteria that could make your family sick. The bacteria is called enterococci--found in the intestines of warm-blooded creatures like humans, birds and dogs.
"We test for enterococci according to the EPA guidelines, which is an indicator organism," explained Brandy Downing, the Healthy Beaches coordinator for Pinellas County. "There are individuals that are immuno-compromised- like the young, infants, the elderly, people with transplants and cancer- that shouldn't be swimming in the water."
The bacteria can cause gastroenteritis, flu-like symptoms and nausea, and because of that, the health department regularly samples beach water-- usually every other week --looking for indicators of the bacteria. The results are posted on the state's Healthy Beaches Program website.
A "good" rating on a test result means no more than 35 bacteria in 100 milliliters of water. "Moderate" is between 36 and 104 and anything higher is considered "poor." A poor report is usually followed with an advisory to stay out of the water and additional testing.
Scroll down to look at a the results from a year's worth of reports from key beaches in the Bay Area.
The Bay Area beach with the most problems is Ben T. Davis Beach in Hillsborough County, located on the eastern end of the Courtney Campbell Causeway.
Between April 2012 and 2013, Ben T. Davis had nine poor ratings, six moderate and 13 advisories.
"The problem with that beach is because there's a lack of flushing," says USF Marine Sciences Professor John Paul. "The causeway blocks the natural currents and there's no real fresh water input."
It's reputation didn't keep Renee Koz from trying out her new paddleboard on a recent weekday.
"I've heard that it's polluted," said Koz. "And there's been times when it's been closed because of, I guess, sewage in the water."
"It's kind of the armpit of Tampa Bay," adds USF Professor Paul.
Across Tampa Bay, in Pinellas County, it's a similar story at Courtney Campbell Causeway Beach. In the last year, it's seen three poor ratings, six moderate and one advisory.
A couple of beaches had spotless records over the past year--nothing but good reports: Sunset Beach in Tarpon Springs and Whitney Beach on the tip of Longboat Key in Manatee County.
Dirty water in the samples can be blamed on more than just human and animal waste.
"We have storm runoff events," said Brandy Downing of the Pinellas County Health Department. "Especially when it rains really heavy after it's been dry for quite some time. It flushes everything out into our waterways."
The best advice: pick up after your pets, maintain your septic systems and check the state's Healthy Beaches website before going to any beach.
"I wouldn't be comfortable being in moderate water quality," said USF professor John Paul. "And certainly, I'd stay out of poor water quality."
Here is a look at the Health Department reports for some Bay Area beaches over the past year.
- "good"--035 enterococcus sp per 100 ml of water
- "moderate"--36-104 enterococcus sp per 100 ml of water
- "poor"--105+ enterococcus sp per 100 ml of water
- Courtney Campbell Causeway: 3 poor, 6 moderate, 1 advisory
- Redington Shores: 2 poor, 2 moderate, 1 advisory
- Indian Rocks Beach: 2 poor, 2 moderate, 1 advisory
- Sand Key: 2 poor, 1 moderate, 1 advisory
- Madeira Beach: 2 poor, 1 moderate, 1 advisory
- Honeymoon Island: 3 moderate
- Pass-a-Grille: 3 moderate
- Treasure Island: 2 moderate
- Fort De Soto Park: 1 moderate
- Sunset Beach/Tarpon Springs: all good
- Ben T. Davis: 11 poor, 9 moderate, 13 advisories
- Picnic Island: 4 poor, 8 moderate, 5 advisories
- Bahia Beach: 3 poor, 4 moderate, 3 advisories
- Simmons Park/Ruskin: 3 poor, 3 moderate, 2 advisories
- Bradenton Beach: 1 poor
- Bayfront Park: 1 moderate
- Coquina Beach: 1 moderate
- Manatee Public Beach: 1 moderate
- Broadway/Whitney Beach: all good
- Longboat Key: 3 poor, 1 moderate
- North Lido Beach: 1 poor, 2 moderate
- Venice Beach: 1 poor, 5 moderate
- Nokomis Beach: 6 moderate
- Caspersen Beach: 3 moderate
- Manasota Beach: 1 moderate
- Blind Pass: 1 moderate
Follow 10 News Reporter Charles Billi on twitter @Charles Billi
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