KINGSTON—The beaches which rim Rhode Island’s coastline are frequented by thousands of residents and visitors yearly. Those who enjoy the aquatic environment, from sun bathing to surfing, may not realize, however, the efforts behind keeping beaches clean. University of Rhode Island student Molly Welsh spent last summer researching the prevalence of pet waste at Rhode Island’s beaches, and the Department of Health took notice.
“I am interested in the interface between science and policy, and conducting a study on pet waste contamination on public beaches seemed to be a nice mix of both,” said Welsh. “As an Environmental Science and Management major at URI, [my] project enabled me to both explore and gather data on a problem and help generate ideas and public outreach information for curtailing it.”
Welsh journeyed to over 40 beaches throughout the state, looking at whether beaches had proper facilities to deal with pet waste, as well as clear signage for pet owners as to where their dogs could recreate.
“Pet waste is 57 percent more toxic than human waste, and one gram of it can contain 23 million fecal coliform bacteria,” explained Welsh. “So this is a really serious issue, especially when children are digging in the sand and putting their hands in their mouth. It can even cause beaches and shellfish beds to be closed.”
“While doing site visits, I conducted surveys of one hundred beach-goers from around the state on their views on pet waste on public beaches,” she added. “[The survey asked] if they thought it was a problem, if they thought it should be better managed through things like increasing disposal centers, enforcing fines, putting up more signs, and if they had observed pet waste on the particular beach we were on.”
82 of those surveyed percent believed that pet waste on public beaches is a problem. 74 percent believed it should be better regulated, and fewer than half of the respondents even knew if the beach to which they brought their pets had enforceable regulations to manage pet waste.
Welsh, with assistance from the Department of Health and funding from URI’s Undergraduate Research Initiative, completed her research, as well as conduct water sampling studies at six beaches that were identified through her survey and one administered through the Department of Health.
“A typical day water quality sampling involved starting very early in the morning, visiting six target beaches around the state to take samples, and driving these samples up to the Department of Health labs to be analyzed the same day,” said Welsh. “Sampling involved walking the beach and taking a water sample in areas where pet waste seemed to be present on the beach.”
Welsh afterwards synthesized her information with the Department of Health’s research in order to develop a new public awareness campaign called ‘Scoop the Poop.’ Her research now provides the backbone for a number of brochures, posters and radio public service announcements, published through the Department of Health, which advise beach-goers on how to properly dispose of pet waste, as well as obeying beach regulations.
To find out more about the ‘Scoop the Poop’ campaign, visit www.health.ri.gov.