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Surfer and Beachgoer Responsiveness to Coastal Water Quality Warnings

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Fecal contamination of coastal waters has led local public health agencies to issue tens of thousands of beach advisories annually and to advise against ocean swimming and surfing for 72 hours following a rain. The responsiveness of recreationists to beach advisories and the “72 hour rule” is estimated by merging four years of multi-daily surfer and beachgoer counts at one beach in Southern California with hourly data on beach advisories, recent precipitation, meteorological conditions, and the UCSB academic calendar. Both surfing and beach-going decreased significantly following rainfall in response to the 72 hour rule, showing that recreationists are willing to engage in health risk-reducing avoiding behavior. However, neither surfing nor beach-going decreased significantly during beach advisories. Surfers were significantly more responsive to beach advisories during dry periods than during wet periods, consistent with the hypothesis that recreationists are most likely to respond to a risk warning that they believe provides accurate and additional health risk information beyond what they can observe personally. Additional studies of beach advisories elsewhere could clarify whether responsiveness to beach advisories varies by recreationist demographic, recreational activity, frequency of advisories, or frequency of repeat visitation. Increasing the accuracy and additional information provided by beach advisories, as proposed by numerous authors, could lead to increased responsiveness.

Keywords: avoiding behavior; beach advisories; coastal water quality; risk advisories

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California, USA

Publication date: 2009-11-01

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