A "Beach Closed" sign at Sayville Beach after heavy rains...

A "Beach Closed" sign at Sayville Beach after heavy rains in June 2018. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Daily Point

Data: Number of beach advisory days higher than 11 years ago

As a heat wave prepares to hover over Long Island, residents can find some solace in not being too far from a body of water to cool them off. But to paraphrase that famous movie quote: Is it safe to go back into the water?

If you’re hearing more about beach closures now than you did before, you’re not wrong. The number of days Long Island beaches were closed or under advisory warnings has grown since 2013, according to data from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Over that time, the five years with the highest totals of advisories and closures have come since 2017, as indicated in the above chart.

In 2023, 84 out of 252 beaches on Long Island had at least one rain or contamination advisory issued or were entirely closed to the public for swimming. Only weeks into this year’s season, Long Islanders were advised against swimming at 65 beaches due to heavy rainfall.

Advisories and closures are issued during and right after heavy rainfall, when stormwater runoff likely carries away animal waste or sewage discharge down to the beaches. The water is tested to measure the levels of enterococcus, a pathogen generally found alongside fecal matter. Exposure to high levels of bacteria can cause vomiting and sickness, especially among children and older adults. Since 2013, about 57% of all issued beach advisories on Long Island were rain-related, amounting to 6,678 accumulated beach days. The advisories or closures can be preemptive as well, in anticipation of a heavy storm, and beaches can be reopened 24 or 48 hours after testing.

Beaches along the South Shore and Long Island Sound are both susceptible to excessive levels of bacteria. Between May and September, when the beaches are open to the public and tested, Crescent Beach in Glen Cove has consistently been closed or had a no-swimming advisory issued over the last 10 years. Its location by a stream has caused bird and dog excrement to wash into the Sound, making the water unsafe for swimming. Tanner Park in Copiague was closed for 26% of the season in 2023, while Hewlett in Hempstead Town and Biltmore and Philip Healey, both in Massapequa, were each closed for about 14% of the season.

The rise in the number of closures and advisories is partly because of climate change. As temperatures get warmer, the capacity of the atmosphere to hold more precipitation increases, causing heavier rains, overwhelming older sewer systems in Nassau and Suffolk. Housing developments near marshlands, especially in the South Shore, that naturally filter the water have also been linked to the damaging of beaches, as in the case of Tanner Park in the Town of Babylon.

More beach closures and advisories can also be attributed to more testing. The BEACH Act of 2000 enforced federal standards for testing, created public notification tools such as this New York State beach quality testing map, and gave Long Island authorities grants to improve water monitoring systems. Suffolk County currently monitors about 190 beaches compared with 71 beaches in 2002.

— Karthika Namboothiri karthika.namboothiri@newsday.com

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— Michael Dobie michael.dobie@newsday.com

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