(5 Jul 2016) LEAD IN:
Summer season just started and beaches are already packed. But swimmers may end up cooling themselves in very polluted water this year.
The National Centre for Marine Sciences has released a study after seawater samples were taken in areas around popular Lebanese beaches.
As days are getting hotter, seawater becomes more alluring.
Waves crash against the rocks. But how clean is that water?
In Batroun, the National Centre for Marine Sciences faces a vast stretch of clear blue sea. For more than 30 years, its main programme has consisted of monitoring Lebanese coastal water.
Three main reasons are responsible for water pollution in Lebanon: dump sites located on the coastline, chemical pollution produced by industries, and sewage water flowing into the sea.
The last one is the dominant reason, but the danger is invisible - unless you are a scientist specialising in water quality.
In their laboratories, scientists from the National Centre for Marine Sciences analyse seawater samples collected from 30 different points on the shores of Lebanon. The seawater is filtered according to the membrane filtration technique in order to collect certain bacteria.
"Two types of bacteria are used as indicators of faecal contamination originating from sewage outfalls, domestic pollution: faecal coliform and faecal streptococci," explains Doria Saba, who studies the quality of coastal seawater in northern Lebanon.
According to the scientists of the National Centre for Marine Sciences, the acceptable rate of these two bacteria for people in contact with the water is 100 UFC (faecal coliform unit) per 100 millilitres. At Beirut public beach Ramlet el-Baida, the rate skyrockets at about 30,000 UFC. It also reaches 15,000 in the Tripoli area.
"In Lebanon, 80 percent of our waste water goes inside Lebanon in the rivers, on the coastline that goes directly to the sea. says Gaby Khalaf, director of the National Centre for Marine Sciences. "Because we don't have a treatment plant for recycle of the waste water."
The National Centre for Marine Sciences recently released its updated map of water pollution on the Lebanese coastline, ranking the main beaches of Lebanon according to their pollution level. The map targets tourists who risk contamination by polluted water.
The northern part of the Lebanese coastline is mostly polluted because a coastal stream in the Mediterranean sea carries polluted water from the Beirut area. Byblos is among the few exceptions and its public beach is packed on a very hot Sunday.
"We can't always stop going to the sea because of pollution. We try to find shores that are clean at least in appearance," explains Manal Ayoub, who came from Batroun with her three children. "For example, this is a shore that has been recently cleaned. It is visitor friendly and appears to be clean, but we can never know what is in the sea. We do know however that all the sewage in the city is deposited in the sea, but so far this doesn't seem to be the case here."
In fact, according to the samples analysed by the National Centre for Marine Sciences, the rate of faecal coliform units in the Byblos area is only between 15 and 20 per 100 millilitres. But Manal Ayoub watches carefully her children when they go swimming.
"Now, I always try my best not to let them swallow water," explains the mother of three. "But I also want to let them have fun. I try my best, that's all I can do in the end."
The scientists of the National Centre for Marine Sciences are calling for the construction of new waste water treatment stations along the Lebanese coastline.
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