Publication Date



Open access

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering (Engineering)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Helena Solo-Gabriele

Second Committee Member

Lora fleming

Third Committee Member

Troy Scott

Fourth Committee Member

Jacqueline James


Swimming in ocean water, including beaches not impacted by known point sources of pollution, continues to pose a rising health concern. Studies which evaluate the relationship between indicator microbes, pathogens, and human health at recreational beaches are rare, especially at non-point beaches, although such studies are necessary for establishing criteria which would protect public health while minimizing economic burdens. The objective of this dissertation was to better understand the non-point source beach system, and hence determine possible directions that should be taken from a beach regulatory perspective in order to protect bather health and minimize economic burdens. This objective was accomplished through two studies. The first study included an initial evaluation of the presence of and associations among indicator microbes, pathogens and environmental conditions at a subtropical, recreational marine beach in South Florida (USA) impacted by non-point sources of pollution. Twelve water and eight sand samples were collected during four sampling events conducted at high or low tide and during elevated or reduced solar insolation conditions. Analyses included fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) (fecal coliform, Escherichia coli, enterococci, Clostridium perfringens), human-associated microbial source tracking (MST) markers (human polyomaviruses [HPyVs] and Enterococcus faecium esp gene), and pathogens (Vibrio vulnificus, Staphylococcus aureus, enterovirus, norovirus, hepatitis A virus, Cryptosporidium spp. and Giardia spp.). The objective of the second study was to capture a series of "snapshots" of the study beach with respect to pathogens and indicator microbe levels, environmental conditions, and cumulative human health effects. Two sets of daily composite samples were collected during the BEACHES epidemiology study conducted in Miami (FL) at the same non-point source subtropical marine beach. These samples were analyzed for several pathogens, microbial source tracking markers, indicator microbes, and environmental parameters similar to those in the first study. Enterococci concentrations in water and sand assessed by qPCR were greater than membrane filtration measurements in both studies. FIB concentrations in water were below recreational water quality standards for three of four sampling events; pathogens and MST markers were also generally undetectable during the first study. FIB levels exceeded regulatory guidelines during one event, accompanied by the detection of HPyVs and pathogens, including the autochthonous bacterium Vibrio vulnificus in both sand and water, the allochthonous protozoan Giardia spp. in water, and Cryptosporidium spp. in sand samples. These elevated microbial levels were detected at high tide, low solar insolation conditions, and after elevated 2 day antecedent rainfall. Analyses of the second study demonstrated that rainfall and tide were also significant factors in determining the presence of both indicator microbes and pathogens. Additional potential associations between environmental factors, microbes and human health effects were also identified. However, more analyses should be conducted as the limited number of samples renders it difficult to make conclusive statements about the relationship between these different factors. The results of this research demonstrate the complexity of beach systems characterized by non-point sources, and how more novel and comprehensive approaches will be needed to assess beach water quality for the purpose of protecting bather health. A recommended approach "The comprehensive tool box with approval process approach" to address the beach complexity is presented and applied to the study beach.


Enterococci; Source Tracking; Pollution; Regulation; Beach