06/19/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Tips for a Healthy Trip to the Beach this Memorial Day

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It's that time of year again -- Memorial Day -- the official start to the summer season and opening day at the beach!  Before you dip into the water, though, you should be aware that swimming at your local beach can make you sick.

Every summer, beach water pollution forces closings around the country.  In 2007 alone, there were more than 20,000 closures and advisories across the country, as reported in NRDC's 2008 Testing the Waters report.  Those closures and advisories happen because beachwater is contaminated with human and animal waste. 

SPECIAL NRDC LIVE CHAT: Join NRDC's Nancy Stoner on Thursday, May 21 at 2:30 p.m. EDT for a live online discussion of beachwater pollution and safety. Ask questions and get tips about protecting yourself and your family from waterborne illnesses at the shore this summer.

Beachwater pollution comes from a variety of different sources.  Heavy summer rains wash over roads, parking lots and other surfaces, picking up pollutants along the way and carrying them to the coast.  This includes waste from pets, livestock, and wild animals.  Leaky and overflowing sewers can release human waste directly into coastal waters as well, especially after a hard rainfall. 

Human and animal wastes contain bacteria, viruses, and parasites that make swimmers sick.  The most common illness is stomach flu, which is characterized by vomiting, diarrhea, nausea and fever.  No one wants to return from the beach feeling like this!  

So as you head out to the beach this summer, here are a few tips for staying healthy: 

  • Make sure that the water has recently been tested and determined to be safe. 
  • Avoid swimming for at least 24 hours after a rain storm, if there is an advisory, if the water looks cloudy, or if it smells bad.  Build a sandcastle or play volleyball instead. 
  • If possible, choose beaches that are next to open water or away from urban areas.  They typically pose less of a health risk than beaches in developed areas or in enclosed bays and harbors with little water circulation.
  • Look for pipes along the beach that drain stormwater runoff from the streets, and don't swim near them.
  • If you can't find out if the beachwater is safe, complain to the local public health agency.

Check out NRDC"s guide on how to find a clean beach for more information.

And while those tips will help you stay healthy at the beach, there are things you can do to help keep your beachwater healthy year-round: 

  • Be a good steward at the beach and pick up trash that others leave behind.
  • Be sure to recycle or dispose of your trash in a trash can -- don't throw it on the ground.
  • Clean up after your pets.
  • Conserve water at your home to help reduce overflows at treatment facilities.
  • Re-direct roof runoff to your yard or garden, not the street.
  • Dispose of waste from your boat at a pump-out facility.

Keep your eye out for NRDC's 19th annual Testing the Waters report later this summer!  As usual, we'll let you know how your favorite beaches are stacking up and offer more information about you can help keep your trips to the shore healthy.

This post originally appeared on NRDC"s Switchboard blog.