Beach Watch funds awarded to LU professor benefit the community, students

The Texas General Land Office has awarded $34,604 to Dr. Ashwini Kucknoor, Lamar University professor of biology, to facilitate Texas Beach Watch in Jefferson County.

Texas Beach Watch is a program funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas General Beachwatch LaboLand Office, which administers the program. The renewable annual funding, awarded upon completion of the testing, covers the costs of supplies as well as student researchers.

Kucknoor directs students to sample water every week at 10 locations from Sea Rim State Park Beach to McFaddin Beach. 

“The program monitors the beaches for Enterococcus bacteria levels in the water, using a standard Enterococci test as per EPA guidelines,” said Kucknoor. “We will also record the water temperature and salinity data.”

When the Enterococci levels exceed the acceptable standards established by the EPA, Kucknoor and her students inform Jefferson County officials who issue advisory warnings alerting the public not to swim in affected waters. They also inform the Sea Rim State Park and McFaddin Beach offices as well.

Enterococci are indicators of the presence of fecal material in water which can indicate a possible presence of disease-causing bacteria, viruses and protozoa. These pathogens can sicken swimmers and others who use the beach for recreation. Other potential health effects can include diseases of the skin, eyes, ears and respiratory tract. Eating fish or shellfish harvested from waters with fecal contamination can also result in human illness.

“This project is significant as both beaches we monitor are widely used by Southeast Texans for recreational activities due to its proximity to our area,” said Kucknoor. “It is important to know the bacterial levels in the water to safeguard the health of general public.  By monitoring the beach water regularly, this project contributes to safeguarding the health of the community.”

Kucknoor hires two students to run the project. Both the students drive to the beach sample-collection sites, collect water samples and bring the samples back to the testing laboratory in LU’s Science & Technology Building. One student, the lead technician, performs the tests and uploads the data. The second technician is an assistant.

The samples are processed within three hours after collection, and microbiological tests are set up. After 24-hours incubation, the lead technician returns to the lab to read the results and update the numbers on the Texas General Land Office website.

“LU students involved in this project will not only learn to carry out bacterial water quality analyses, but also take part in providing this service to the community,” said Kucknoor. “Moreover, since this is routine work that has to be carried out rain or shine, it teaches good time management and responsibility to the students.” 

The water quality information on the Texas Beach Watch site is updated each time sample results are entered into the database. This provides a nearly real-time data access to the general public.

“The goal of the Texas Beach Watch program is to provide the public with information about water quality at selected recreational beaches along the Texas coast,” said Kucknoor. “It’s significant that LU students do the work, contributing to the community and enhancing their educations at the same time.”