Date of Award

Fall 2021

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Environmental Health Sciences

First Advisor

Dwayne E. Porter


The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act was established in 2000 to reduce the risk of illness among recreational users of beaches in the United States. Specifically, the Act provides coastal states and territories with annual grants to conduct routine water quality monitoring at beaches and to notify the public when pathogen levels exceed safe thresholds. Many coastal states use beach signs, agency websites, and press releases to notify the public, but a 2011 evaluation of the public notification component of the BEACH Act found that few states are choosing methods based on target audience characteristics and interests. Additionally, inland coastal waterways such as rivers, creeks, and harbors are outside the purview of the BEACH Act and generally do not experience the same level of rigor with respect to monitoring, reporting, and public notification when health threats exist, yet significant contact recreation may occur in these waterways. In many coastal areas, this represents a growing public health risk, as coastal population growth paired with expanding recreational use of inland coastal waters results in more individuals entering the water across a broader geographical expanse.

This project assessed stakeholder needs and preferences for swimming advisory notifications in Charleston, South Carolina through an online survey of water recreators and telephone interviews with the owners and managers of water-recreation businesses. Study participants indicated high awareness of water quality problems in the area, a strong desire to know when contact with water posed health risks, and a strong preference for automated notifications about water quality. These findings may inform the responsible state agency’s evolving beach communications strategy as well as the communications of local nonprofit organizations who supplement state water quality monitoring and reporting. More broadly, the research suggests the need for similar studies in other coastal locations; it highlights the need for collaboration among water quality data providers, public health officials, and healthcare providers to conceptualize better mechanisms for diagnosing and documenting water recreation-based illnesses; and it suggests that federal funding levels for the BEACH Act, which have been stagnant over the last two decades, should be re-evaluated considering a growing public health risk


© 2021, Zachary Haynes Hart