All Toilets Lead to the Sea: Coastal Waters Around the World Are Drowning in Human Waste

Coastal cities in wealthy nations have invested millions in an attempt to keep their crap away from urban beaches. But a new study shows that water quality continues to suffer from a problem of our own making.

In Mobile Bay, Alabama, researchers have discovered a high concentration of fecal bacteria. And despite the fact that there are many cattle ranches close by, the researchers found that the offending feces are not from cattle—they’re mostly of human origin. This adds Mobile Bay to a growing list of coastal waters that are suffering the same problem.

“This is a beach people use to swim,” says Yucheng Feng, an environmental scientist at Alabama’s Auburn University and one of the researchers behind the new report. She adds that people can get sick—from hepatitis to ear infections or worse—from swimming in waters with high levels of poop.

From January to April of 2012, the researchers took samples of the water from the eastern shore of Mobile Bay near the small city of Fairhope, including from a popular beach.

Photo: Geraint Rowland/Flickr (CC BY-SA-NC 2.0)

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