How come Martha’s Vineyard beaches were closed temporarily due to bacteria

Health officials in Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury posted notices Tuesday announcing the closing of public beaches after water tests taken Monday indicated high levels of enterococci bacteria.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), enterococci bacteria are an indicator organism that may mean water is contaminated by fecal coliform bacteria.

The beach closings occurred during one of the busiest weeks of the summer season, and one day before President Barack Obama and his family arrive for a 10-day vacation.

West Tisbury health agent John Powers confirmed that Long Point Beach, on the south shore fronting the Atlantic Ocean, Long Cove Pond, and Sepiessa Point Beach on Tisbury Great Pond are closed to swimming. He expected to receive the most recent test results late yesterday evening.

Mr. Powers said he would provide that information to The Times (see mvtimes.com for an update).

The Trustees of the Reservations Long Point Beach in West Tisbury is just across Tisbury Pond from the Blue Heron Farm where the First Family will stay.

Chris Kennedy, Trustees regional supervisor, told The Times late yesterday that the elevated levels of bacteria are unusual. He said a sampling error could be the cause. “It defies imagination that both beaches (Long Point and Long Cove) would be contaminated at the same time,” he said.

Mr. Kennedy expected to receive the results of the latest round of testing late yesterday. (Results will be posted on mvtimes.com).

In Oak Bluffs, health agent Shirley Fauteux closed Inkwell Beach and Pay Beach along Sea View Avenue; Eastville Beach near the temporary Lagoon Pond Drawbridge; and Medeiros Cove in Lagoon Pond at 9 am Wednesday.

Ms. Fauteux said water tests from those areas also showed the presence of the bacteria enterococci.

Reached by telephone at her house, a prickly Ms. Fauteux offered little information. Asked what the presence of enterococci in water samples indicates, she said, “I have no idea. You called me at home. I’m not at my desk.”

Asked whether she had notified media outlets, Ms. Fauteux said, “I don’t call the paper and tell them the beaches are closed. My job is to close them, I don’t need to notify anyone.”

Beach closings have been a regular occurrence along the Massachusetts coast this summer. Last week, 33 beaches were closed to swimming.

High levels of enterococcus can cause skin irritation, vomiting, or diarrhea.