Human waste is the main source of contamination on most of Auckland's most popular beaches, according to DNA test results.
Results released by Auckland Council showed that human waste was present in just over half of the 646 samples taken from locations such as Browns Bay, Mission Bay and Takapuna beach.
The data contradict previous information from Watercare, which had labeled bird droppings as the main cause of contamination.
"Testing suggests that a significant proportion of the bacteria in the overflows can be traced back to bird waste, rather than from human waste," stated the minutes of a meeting of the Board of Watercare Services, dated 27 March.
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The Safeswim of Auckland Council samples water on 84 beaches and eight freshwater locations around Auckland.
Where water quality consistently does not comply with national guidelines, DNA research is then used to help bacteria in the water from farm, domestic animals or wild animals, people or birds.
"The different sources pose different levels of risk to public health," said Safeswim program manager Nick Vigar.
"Knowing the source of the infection helps to manage effectively, for example, contamination by dog sources would require a different management approach than [a] human source. "
Secondly, for humans, the results of avian faeces were the second most common among 198 samples. Dog excreta were detected in 129 samples and faeces from ruminating animals were detected in 41.
A total of 150 samples without a reliable source were identified.
Dr. David Sinclair, a medical public health officer from Auckland Regional Health, said that national guidelines have been drafted about the exposure likely to cause human diseases, including gastroenteritis, respiratory diseases, skin and eye infections.
Auckland's Takapuna Beach – a popular spot for families and young children – can be considered as the lightning rod for monitoring water quality.
Test results from March and April detected human excrement that contaminated the water in eight of the 10 rainwater pipes tested.
The toilet block had since been repaired after the cracked pipes had been identified as a source of contamination.
The local community was also approached to ensure that private waste water did not flow or leach into the main rainwater pipes.
Beach Carroll organizer Nick Carroll said that the water quality of Takapuna has improved a lot in a year. Last summer, poor water quality led to the cancellation of various swimming events.
Carroll said there were now two test locations along the beach, where previously only one had been.
"Problems are solved and there is more insight into what happens," Carroll said.
"That will only improve with the more funding that Auckland Council offers."