Gull droppings tied to E. coli Task
force recommends getting rid of the birds that foul
By STEVE SCHULTZE
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Gull droppings' fecal bacteria is nearly
100% E. coli. Ounce for ounce, gull feces carry much
more E. coli than that of other waterfowl.
That's one of the recommendations of
a local group studying persistent Lake Michigan beach
pollution in the Milwaukee area. Preliminary results
of several studies have identified gulls as a likely
culprit of high fecal coliform levels that have led
to closing South Shore Beach for about half of last
year's swimming season.
The severe pollution at South Shore
Beach probably is a localized problem linked to the
heavy concentration of gulls there coupled with relatively
stagnant water, according to a report by the Southeast
Wisconsin Beach Task Force. The group was formed more
than a year ago to investigate causes and ways to fix
While more research needs to be done,
enough is known now to implicate gull droppings as a
source of the high bacteria at South Shore, Rep. Jon
Richards (D-Milwaukee), a member of the task force,
said Thursday. The group hasn't yet worked out a plan
for gull removal, something that probably would prove
difficult, he said.
"They are a federally protected
species," Richards said. "Also, people love
sea gulls. I love sea gulls. Who doesn't love the sound
of sea gulls around their house?"
Gull droppings nearly all E. coli But
gull droppings carry a powerful dose of bacteria, according
to Sandra McLellan, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
researcher studying water pollution at Lake Michigan
for the task force.
And not just any old fecal coliform.
Gull droppings' fecal bacteria is nearly 100% E. coli,
a type associated with gastrointestinal illnesses if
ingested by people, McLellan said.
Ounce for ounce, gull feces carry much
more E. coli than that of other waterfowl, including
the Canada geese that also frequent the South Shore
Beach area, McLellan said.
She cited a 1999 New York study that
sampled gull and goose feces around a reservoir. That
study found gull feces contained on average 368 million
fecal coliform bacteria per gram, which translates to
about 184 million per gull dropping.
Federal guidelines suggest closing
beaches if water samples contain 235 fecal coliforms
per liter of water.
Bacteria concentration in gull droppings
is about 1,000 times greater than for goose droppings,
Gulls "obviously have pretty potent
waste, and that's something we have to acknowledge,"
Although the task force report called
for moving or eliminating waterfowl from the South
area, it didn't suggest how it might be done.
Gulls are considered highly adaptable
and smart birds, posing challenges to removal plans,
according to experts.
Gary Waszak, director of aquatics for
he hadn't seen the task force recommendation but was
skeptical about trying to rid South
of its gulls.
"That would be like eliminating
lake effect snow in the area," he said. "You
can try," but you'd be fighting a powerful force
"I don't know what could be done
other than some kind of scare tactics," such as
loud noises, Waszak said.
Breakwater changes sought The report
also suggests reducing direct storm water flows to the
lake, to prevent gull, duck and dog feces from washing
into the lake at South Shore Beach from a paved boat
ramp. And it suggests altering the breakwater so it
doesn't trap water in the beach area so effectively.
Better circulation with offshore water would dilute
the near-shore bacteria pollution, the report said.
Richards said he hoped, despite the
tight state and local budgets, that some money could
be found for the projects.
McLellan said her research has not
yet ruled out other sources of bacteria as contributing
to the South
problem. Those could include bacteria from streets and
farms that wash downstream, as well as from the raw
sewage dumping that occurs in heavy rainstorms, she
"Most certainly there isn't one
single answer" to the cause of the beach pollution,
But the high bacteria levels at South
readings from the rivers that flow into Lake
Michigan, suggesting gull waste plays a
dominant role there, she said.
Research probably will continue for
another year before a final report is issued, McLellan