A laboratory based microcosm study utilising intact non-sterile sediment cores was undertaken to determine the survival of the faecal indicator organisms Escherichia coli, Enterococcus faecium and somatic coliphage in both recreational coastal water and sediment. Overlying water was inoculated with the test organisms and incubated at 10°C, 20°C or 30°C. E. coli, enterococcus and coliphage were enumerated from the water column and sediment by the membrane filtration method, Enterolert (IDEXX Laboratories) and the double-agar overlay methods respectively on days 0, 1, 2, 7, 14 and 28 following inoculation. It was demonstrated that for all organisms, greater decay (k; d-1) occurred in the water column compared to sediment. Sediment characteristics were found to influence decay, with lowest decay rates observed in sediment consisting of high organic carbon content and small particle size. Decay of E. coli was significantly greater in both the water column and sediment compared with enterococcus and coliphage under all conditions. Decay of enterococcus was found to closely resemble that of coliphage decay. Survival of all organisms was inversely related to temperature, with greatest decay at 30°C. However, increased temperature had a less significant impact on survival of enterococcus and coliphage compared with E. coli. The importance of this study for estimating risk from recreational exposure is great if some pathogenic microorganisms behave similarly to the organisms tested in this study. In particular if survival rates of pathogens are similar to enterococcus and coliphage, then their ability to accumulate in coastal sediment may lead to an increased risk of exposure if these organisms are resuspended into the water column due to natural turbulence or human recreational activity.

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