Dogs Improve Beach Sanitation

Canines that chase away seagulls have been helping to reduce the amount of bird droppings, which can carry disease and lead to beach closures.

Sep 4, 2012
Edyta Zielinska

Letting dogs loose on public beaches could help decrease beach closures from microbial threats. Microbes in seabird guano, such as certain strains of E. coli and Enterococcus, can reach high levels during the summer, forcing beach managers to close certain areas to the public. While many tactics, including spraying oil on nests to prevent hatching, have been used, sending dogs to chase the birds may be most effective, researchers from the Environmental Protection Agency reported this month (August 22) in Environmental Science & Technology.

Researchers sampled the waters from a beach on Lake Michigan near Chicago before the start of beach season, then sent out trained border collies, along with handlers who picked up after the dogs, to chase birds all day. “Harassment by dogs was an effective method of gull control: average daily gull populations fell from 665 before to 17 during intervention,” the authors wrote in the paper.

However, some researchers aren’t convinced that seagull poop is connected to human disease. Other birds, as well as humans, could be driving the bacterial populations as well, Richard Whitman, a research ecologist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Lake Michigan Ecological Research Station told ScienceNOW.