Mississippi Beach Monitoring Program
Frequently Asked Questions

What is the BEACH Act?

The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act of 2000 established the BEACH Program to promote greater consistency in the Nation’s beach health protection programs.  Funding under this program has supported Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) efforts to provide beach water quality protection professional’s better access to the most current beach water quality reports, studies, and testing methods.

What is the MS Beach Monitoring Program?

Mississippi has fully implemented the BEACH Act Monitoring and Notification Program, which includes the implementation of the EPA recommended Enterococci criteria.  Decisions on beach advisories are based on a single sample maximum of 104 cfu/100 mL as required by EPA.  The University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) Microbiology laboratory conducts the monitoring and laboratory testing.  GCRL will continue to perform these tasks.  MDEQ will be responsible for program supervision, direction, and administration. 

How many beaches are sampled under the MS Beach Monitoring Program? 
Over 40 miles of the Mississippi Gulf Coast shoreline are maintained as public access sand beaches for swimming and sunbathing. A total of 22 beaches segments are monitored under the Beach Monitoring Program. 

What does it mean when an advisory is posted for a beach?  Is the water safe for swimming?  How long does an advisory last?

An advisory is issued when bacteria levels exceed water quality criteria and therefore poses an increased risk to human health.  Under the MS Beach Monitoring Program, water is tested for the presence of Enterococcus bacteria.  Enterococcus bacteria thrive in water contaminated with sewage or storm water runoff, and scientists often use the bacteria to indicate the presence of harder to detect, disease-causing microorganisms.  When an advisory is issued, water contact should be avoided.

When samples indicate that bacteria levels are high enough to trigger an advisory, the water at that beach will be resampled every 24 hours until levels fall within a safe range.  An advisory lasts at least 24 hours but can be extended until bacteria levels come back down to levels that no longer pose a risk to human health.

Where does this contamination come from?

The bacteria in the coastal waters can come from a variety of sources—both near the shore and inland.  They include storm water runoff, boating waste, sewer overflows, wildlife, and other human activities.  Elevated levels of bacteria are also associated with strong winds, which stir up sediments, and rain events.  Additionally, swimmers are reminded that the Beach Task Force has a standing recommendation that swimming not occur during or within 24 hours of a significant rainfall event.

What is the difference between an advisory and a closure at a beach?

A closure is issued for a section of beach where there is a known source of pollution that poses a risk to human health.  For example, a sewage line breaks near a beach monitoring station and raises the bacteria levels too high for human contact.  An advisory is usually issued due to more natural reasons that can cause high levels of bacteria. The signage is also different for a closure and for an advisory.

Can I still use the beaches that are under advisory/closure?

MDEQ strongly recommends no water contact during an advisory. The public can still enjoy the sand portion of the beach section under advisory, but it is a “swim at your own risk” if you chose to come in contact with the water.   

What is the health risks associated with water contact at a section of beach under advisory/closure? Can I reduce my health risk?

People who come in contact with water contaminated with such bacterial pollution, as indicated by Enterococcus bacteria, are at an increased risk of becoming ill.  Pathogens associated with this type of pollution can cause ear, eye, skin and respiratory infections, gastrointestinal illness, and more serious diseases such as meningitis and hepatitis. Members of the public that are at the most risk to such illness are the very young, seniors, and people with compromised immune systems.  Also, open cuts or sores are more prone to get an infection.  It should be understood that all natural bodies of water pose some risk. You can limit the risk by keeping your head above water and not ingesting any saltwater while swimming.  It is also a good practice to shower after swimming.

How can I find out about advisories?

On behalf of the Beach Monitoring Task Force, MDEQ sends press releases to local media to alert the public, signs are posted at the sampling locations, and a website is maintained with current information about which sites are under an advisory and which are not (

Request > Have beach advisories sent directly to your email !
Text "MDEQbeach" to 95577 to receive beach advisories by text.
MS Beach Status RSS Feed  RSS Feed Follow MDEQ on: Follow MDEQ on Twitter Follow MDEQ on Facebook Follow MDEQ YouTube Channel

Beach Advisory Sign

What exactly can I or can I not do at or bring to a beach?

MDEQ only conducts water quality sampling activities and issues beach advisories/closures when needed to protect public health.  Each county and/or city has their own policies in regard to beach usage.  Please refer to the following links:

Beaches in Harrison County:

Beaches in Jackson County:

Beaches in Hancock County:

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For Additional Data/Information Please Contact:
Beach Monitoring Coordinator
Tel. (228) 432-3447

<MS Beach Monitoring Program Homepage
[Hancock County] [Harrison County] [Jackson County]

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Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality

Last modified:  01/01/2015
Server Location: The University of Southern Mississippi
Webpage Maintained by: Alan Criss