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FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2011 Jul;77(1):40-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6941.2011.01082.x. Epub 2011 Apr 26.

Wrack promotes the persistence of fecal indicator bacteria in marine sands and seawater.

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Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, USA.


Algae on freshwater beaches can serve as reservoirs for fecal indicator bacteria (FIB). Wrack (especially kelp) at marine beaches might sustain FIB as well. This study examines the relationship between beach wrack, FIB, and surrounding water and sediment at marine beaches along the California coast. Surveys of southern and central California beaches were conducted to observe environmental wrack-associated FIB concentrations. FIB concentrations normalized to dry weight were the highest in stranded dry wrack, followed by stranded wet and suspended 'surf' wrack. Laboratory microcosms were conducted to examine the effect of wrack on FIB persistence in seawater and sediment. Indigenous enterococci and Escherichia coli incubated in a seawater microcosm containing wrack showed increased persistence relative to those incubated in a microcosm without wrack. FIB concentrations in microcosms containing wrack-covered sand were significantly higher than those in uncovered sand after several days. These findings implicate beach wrack as an important FIB reservoir. The presence of wrack may increase water and sediment FIB levels, altering the relationship between FIB levels and actual health risk while possibly leading to beach closures. Further work will need to investigate the possibility of FIB growth on wrack and the potential for pathogen presence.

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