Surfrider Foundation’s 2005 State of the Beach report was released on July 28, the same day as NRDC’s Testing the Waters report. Although both reports emphasized that our coasts are in trouble and there are serious water quality problems, an EPA press release just the day before painted a much rosier picture, claiming that “only four percent of beach days were lost due to advisory or closures triggered by monitoring.”
So, when we were contacted by a reporter from the Christian Science Monitor (CSM), he was confused about who to believe. In response, I pointed out that EPA really had no basis for saying things were good or getting better, since 2004 was the first year they required and received anything close to complete data from all coastal states. In fact, their own “2004 Swimming Season Update” (EPA hasn’t figured out that many of us go in the water year round) states “Data trends are difficult to establish due to the new reporting requirements that began in 2003.” What we really have here, folks, is a case of Shifting Baselines. Actually, it’s Missing Baselines, since we really don’t know what the water quality was even five or ten years ago, let alone before that.
I suggested to the reporter that he check out the Shifting Baselines website and our “Shifting Baselines in the Surf” video. Although he contacted me later to say that the video was great and that he would recommend to it to his contacts, he didn’t reference it in his story, which appeared in the CSM on August 9 and was subsequently picked up by USA Today, CBS News and Yahoo! News.
Although the article ended up being fairly balanced, anyone reading it may come away with the impression that there is disagreement over the seriousness of the problem, or that we are well on the way to solving it. Speaking for those of us that often feel like ”canaries in a coal mine”, I’m not too comforted to know that “only” four percent of beach days were lost or that “26 percent [of beaches] had at least one advisory or closing in 2004.” How about you?
Coastal Management Coordinator, Surfrider Foundation