Members of the general public will be expecting to see public notices or sign posts along the coast of Port Vila Harbour in relation to stopping public access to swim and dive in the harbour.

Erie Sami, Acting Manager of Monitoring and Assessment Unit at the Department of Water Resources explained that this would be the next action expected to be implemented shortly, following the recent ban of partaking in any recreational activities which involved getting into the sea within Port Vila Bay.

The series of ongoing tests conducted by the Department of Water Resources in Port Vila Bay over the years since the 1980s has revealed a hiking trend of the levels of bacteria in the sea.

Total coliform, E-coli and Enterococci are the three types of bacteria tested  within the Port Vila Harbour making it unsafe to swim nor fish in it. Coliforms can originate from non-faecal sources, E-Coli live in intestine of humans and other animals and they enter the environment in feaces and Enterococci which also enter the environment in faeces but they are not present in all faeces, only from infected people.

Acting Manager of Monitoring and Assessment Unit revealed that and their findings has been confirmed by an independent party, Peter Sharry, a Water Quality Consultant from Axiom who was contracted by the Vanuatu Project Management Unit (VPMU) to undertake the tests. Sharry undertook series of tests and results corresponded with results from the Department of Water.

Vanuatu Services Engie, a private company which is also monitoring water quality was also contracted by the Department of Water to conduct tests after Peter Sharry's test. Again, their findings matched previous tests done.

A recent test known as Coastal Water Quality Monitoring undertaken by the Department of Water was done on August 23, 2018.

At the end of July, in close consultation with the Director Department of Health, Director of the Department of Water Resource, Erickson Sammy signed a notice of determination for the limitation on the right to use water as per the Water Resources Management Act [CAP 281] paragraph 8 (1) (b).

The order states, "Given the high level of bacteria which exceeds standards for recreational use, a person must not use the water located within boundaries set out in the Schedule for the purpose of swimming".

These areas include to Paray Bay in Namba Tu area. Popular recreational spots such as the Vatumaru Bay and Sea Front have been also identified to be unsafe.

Based on researches and studies conducted, the areas identified are no longer safe. Its health impact on people can be severe and people can get skin diseases and other sicknesses such as stomach ache and diarrhea when they continue to expose themselves to the high levels of bacteria present in the sea. That also include when swimming and also eating shells and fish within the area.

The Department of Water is basing its tests on the World Health Organisation (WHO) Recreational Water Standards, as well as the Australia and New Zealand standards as Vanuatu does not have one yet.

"When the water quality bacteria is beyond the standards, it becomes unsafe for human being to partake in the sea, either swim, dive nor fish.

"The problem with Port Vila Harbour is that the current circulates on the surface of the sea so any stuff discharged into the sea are tended to be piled at the bottom of the sea.

"Our studies have revealed that most of the discharged wastes are sourced from illegal piping and drainage directly into the harbour.

"A lot of the business houses within the Central Business District (CBD) have direct sewerage system."

According to Sami, owners and occupiers of premises within the Port Vila CBD were already issued notices regarding their wastes and sewage discharges earlier this year.

A Task Force was appointed to oversee this issue. Members of the Task Force include representatives from the Department of Water Resources, Department of Environment, Port Vila Municipality, Department of Public Health, Shefa Provincial Council, VPMU and Department of Lands. 

The Department of Water is advising public to respect the ban and refrain from swimming in the sea within the identified areas to avoid health implications.

Anyone caught breaching the order will pay a heavy fine of not more than Vt1 million or not more than two years imprisonment.

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