Bermuda has no national sewerage system in place for the nearly 20x106 L of sewage that is generated on a daily basis. Instead, the sewage is disposed of through marine outfalls, cess pits and septic tanks under houses, and through waste disposal (injection) wells. The largest sewage outfall at Seabright receives preliminary-treated effluent from Hamilton and surrounding areas. The Seabright outfall is 784m from the entrance to Hungary Bay, 700m from the eastern end of Grape Bay, and 1600m from the eastern end of Elbow Bay. The Bermuda Department of Health regularly monitors seawater quality at nearby beaches and other locations within Bermuda's inshore waters using the US EPA Recreational Water Quality Criteria. Since 2007 the Microbial Ecology Laboratory has been involved in numerous research projects investigating the realized and potential impacts of sewage effluent on water quality, as well as the marine ecosystem.

Seabright Sewage Outfall

In 2007 the Microbial Ecology Laboratory joined with the former Marine Environment Program (MEP, now the Coral Reef Ecology and Optics Lab) to study the impacts of sewage on the environment surrounding the Seabright outfall, including water quality and coral health. Over the next three years, the project increased in both scope and collaborators, each year building upon the findings of the previous year. The original project investigated the microbial composition of water samples taken from around Seabright, as well as the microbial abundance within the coral surface microlayer (CSM) of Porites astreoides. The following year looked specifically at fecal indicator bacteria species (including E.coli and Enterococci) in both water and CSM samples using a special method called FISH (fluorescent in-situ hybridization), in addition to the presence/absence of the human strain of Bacteroides using molecular methods. In the final year of the project, the team looked at sediment samples in addition to the water and CSM samples, analyzing them for E.coli, Enterococci, and the human strain of Bacteroides. Detailed information on collaborators, funding sources, and results can be found in this summary document.

Monitoring Bermuda's Inshore Waters for Fecal Indicators

In 2008 the Bermuda Department of Health funded the Microbial Ecology Laboratory to monitor Bermuda's inshore waters for fecal indicator bacteria, which would indicate the presence of human waste. In particular, this project was tasked with monitoring water samples taken from "high risk" sites around Bermuda for the human strain of Bacteroides. These "high risk" sites included Dockyard Marina, Horseshoe Bay, Snorkel Park, Tobacco Bay, and Sonesta Beach, as well as other popular recreational boat harbors and beaches. The results of this study were included in a report to the Department of Health in 2009 and presented to government officials in August of that same year. Detailed information on the results can be found in this summary document.

The Great Sound Sediment Study

In 2009 the Bermuda Department of Environmental Protection funded a joint project between the Microbial Ecology Laboratory and the former Marine Environmental Program to investigate the presence of the human strain of Bacteroides in sediments (samples of which are seen in the photo to the left, courtesy Ross Jones) from around the Great Sound. Results of this study were published in 2010: Jones, R., Parsons, R., Watkinson, E., and Kendell, D. 2010. Sewage contamination of a densely populated coral 'atoll' (Bermuda). Environ Monit Asses. 1-16

The Impact of Sewage from Recreational Boating

In 2011 the Microbial Ecology Laboratory, with the help of two Bermuda Program interns, investigated the impact of recreational boating on Bermuda's water and sediments by comparing bacterial abundances in seawater samples taken from popular boating sites before and after the Cup Match holiday (including the annual Non-Mariners Race as seen in the photo to the left, courtesy The Royal Gazette). Results of this study can be found in this summary document.

The Coral Reef Ecology and Optics Laboratory (CREOL) continues to assess the health of the coral reef systems near the outfall. The Department of Health continues to monitor Bermuda’s beaches for sewage pollution. BIOS and the Microbial Ecology Laboratory would like to continue working with the Bermuda Government on identifying sources of sewage contamination on the Bermuda Platform. The Department of Health, the Department of Environmental Protection, the BIOS NSF-funded REU Program, and the BIOS Bermuda Program funded these projects.