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Rapid Response: Application of a qPCR Based Test for Enterococci as a Rapid Beach Management Tool in Hawaiʻi.
Principal Investigator: Marek Kirs
Climate change is projected to increase the risk of loss for people, assets, economies and ecosystems as extreme weather events, such as tropical storms and hurricanes, are projected to increase in number and intensity. Changing climate and urbanization will alter inputs of fecal bacteria in tropical environments which can compromise the health of Hawaiʻi residents and visitors. Current microbiological methods to evaluate water quality take a minimum of 24 hours to complete, while novel rapid molecular methods can be completed in a few hours. Therefore, we have an opportunity to pioneer a method adaptation and demonstrate our commitment to serve the public by providing better service to our residents and visitors. Unfortunately, no validated and ready-to-be-used rapid method exists for Hawaiʻi: our preliminary studies have identified several issues specific to Hawaiʻi, and likely to a wider tropical region, that prevent the use, in their current form, of novel rapid methods promulgated by the USEPA for beach monitoring purposes. The overarching goal of this project is to promote positive change in Hawaiʻi water quality monitoring programs, a change that: 1) will have a positive impact on coastal tourism, and 2) builds community resilience to extreme weather events. The project aims to provide a validated tool for rapid detection of fecal contamination in Hawaiʻi coastal waters. We envision that rapid molecular tests, as well as rapid detection and confirmation of sewer leaks, will be adapted for beach notification purposes. This project will increase hazard resilience in coastal communities as the public can be notified regarding water quality issues just a few hours after sample collection. Rapid test protocols and related management decisions would ultimately lead to cleaner and healthier environments and enhanced ecosystem services. Better protection of public health is expected to manifest in a lower sewage-borne illness rate and related expenditures. Through stakeholder engagement, this project will enhance communication, awareness and understanding across the stakeholder groups and will enable us to develop a stronger and lasting relationship with local communities as well as build further research opportunities to serve the state and the community. This is essential for sustainable communities.