DNA tests to help solve wa­ter woes

Sunday Tasmanian - - News - ANNE MATHER

WA­TER qual­ity ex­perts say an­i­mals may be to blame for the el­e­vated lev­els of pol­lu­tion across Greater Ho­bart beaches in re­cent days, and DNA test­ing of the bac­te­ria may solve the mys­tery.

TasWater is in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether warm-blooded an­i­mals — such as seabirds, na­tive an­i­mals or pets — are be­hind the fae­cal con­tam­i­na­tion in the River Der­went.

Der­went Es­tu­ary Pro­gram chief ex­ec­u­tive Ur­sula Tay­lor said the source of the pol­lu­tion re­mained un­known.

“It could be from any warm-blooded an­i­mals, it could be seag­ulls,” Ms Tay­lor said. “We are in con­stant con­tact with coun­cils and TasWater, and we are help­ing with ex­tra mon­i­tor­ing.”

TasWater chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Michael Brew­ster said the au­thor­ity was look­ing into a range of fac­tors that may have led to the high read­ings of en­te­ro­cocci bac­te­ria.

“Part of this in­ves­ti­ga­tion will in­volve DNA fin­ger­print­ing of the en­te­ro­cocci bac­te­ria in an at­tempt to de­ter­mine a source,” he said.

En­te­ro­cocci are an in­di­ca­tor of the pres­ence of fae­cal ma­te­rial in sea­wa­ter.

“There are many po­ten­tial sources in­clud­ing warm­blooded an­i­mals like seabirds, na­tive an­i­mals and house­hold pets. It can also be found in sea­weed and beach veg­e­ta­tion,” he said.

“While the DNA tests may not give us a de­fin­i­tive an­swer, it is part of work­ing through the process to iden­tify what hap­pened and what we can do about it.”

So far TasWater has iden­ti­fied no sewage block­ages, pipe breaks or any ab­nor­mal dis­charge from sewage treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties or pump­ing sta­tions which may have con­trib­uted to the unu- su­ally high read­ing of en­te­ro­cocci which re­sulted in the clo­sure of Black­mans Bay beach.King­bor­ough Coun­cil’s test­ing of stormwa­ter at Black­mans Bay beach has also come back with low lev­els of bac­te­ria.

Seven of 18 sites failed wa­ter qual­ity tests on Thurs­day and needed to be retested af­ter high lev­els of fae­cal mat­ter were recorded. Black­mans Bay wa­ter was found to be so bad it was im­me­di­ately closed af­ter ini­tial test­ing.

Retests con­ducted across the seven sites, in­clud­ing beaches at Howrah, Bel­lerive, Sandy Bay and Black­mans Bay, showed all beaches recorded a pass mark.

The only two beaches that re­main un­safe for swim­ming are the south­ern end of Black­mans Bay and Nut­grove Beach west.

Civil Lib­er­ties Aus­tralia pres­i­dent Richard Griggs, who is run­ning as an in­de­pen­dent can­di­date in the Up­per House seat of Nel­son, yes­ter­day launched a pe­ti­tion call­ing for “ur­gent and united ac­tion” to lo­cate and fix the prob­lem of pol­lu­tion in the Der­went.

“The ex­traor­di­nar­ily high fae­cal con­tam­i­na­tion event this week war­rants an ur­gent and uni­fied re­sponse from the State Gov­ern­ment,” he said.

A spokes­woman for the State Gov­ern­ment said agen­cies would work to­gether “to iden­tify the cause of the ear­lier re­sults”.

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