Reviews in Environmental Science and Bio/Technology

, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 329–368 | Cite as

Microbes in beach sands: integrating environment, ecology and public health

  • Richard L. Whitman
  • Valerie J. Harwood
  • Thomas A. Edge
  • Meredith B. Nevers
  • Muruleedhara Byappanahalli
  • Kannappan Vijayavel
  • João Brandão
  • Michael J. Sadowsky
  • Elizabeth Wheeler Alm
  • Allan Crowe
  • Donna Ferguson
  • Zhongfu Ge
  • Elizabeth Halliday
  • Julie Kinzelman
  • Greg Kleinheinz
  • Kasia Przybyla-Kelly
  • Christopher Staley
  • Zachery Staley
  • Helena M. Solo-GabrieleEmail author


Beach sand is a habitat that supports many microbes, including viruses, bacteria, fungi and protozoa (micropsammon). The apparently inhospitable conditions of beach sand environments belie the thriving communities found there. Physical factors, such as water availability and protection from insolation; biological factors, such as competition, predation, and biofilm formation; and nutrient availability all contribute to the characteristics of the micropsammon. Sand microbial communities include autochthonous species/phylotypes indigenous to the environment. Allochthonous microbes, including fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) and waterborne pathogens, are deposited via waves, runoff, air, or animals. The fate of these microbes ranges from death, to transient persistence and/or replication, to establishment of thriving populations (naturalization) and integration in the autochthonous community. Transport of the micropsammon within the habitat occurs both horizontally across the beach, and vertically from the sand surface and ground water table, as well as at various scales including interstitial flow within sand pores, sediment transport for particle-associated microbes, and the large-scale processes of wave action and terrestrial runoff. The concept of beach sand as a microbial habitat and reservoir of FIB and pathogens has begun to influence our thinking about human health effects associated with sand exposure and recreational water use. A variety of pathogens have been reported from beach sands, and recent epidemiology studies have found some evidence of health risks associated with sand exposure. Persistent or replicating populations of FIB and enteric pathogens have consequences for watershed/beach management strategies and regulatory standards for safe beaches. This review summarizes our understanding of the community structure, ecology, fate, transport, and public health implications of microbes in beach sand. It concludes with recommendations for future work in this vastly under-studied area.


Beach sand Fecal indicator bacteria Psammon Pathogens Fate Water quality 



This paper is a direct outcome of “Linking Fecal Indicator Bacteria in Beach Sand and Water” Workshop held during the 2011 Great Lakes Beach Association Conference, Michigan City, IN; September 26–28. We thank Tim Wade of the U.S. EPA for input and helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard L. Whitman
    • 1
  • Valerie J. Harwood
    • 2
  • Thomas A. Edge
    • 3
  • Meredith B. Nevers
    • 1
  • Muruleedhara Byappanahalli
    • 1
  • Kannappan Vijayavel
    • 4
    • 5
  • João Brandão
    • 6
  • Michael J. Sadowsky
    • 7
  • Elizabeth Wheeler Alm
    • 8
  • Allan Crowe
    • 3
  • Donna Ferguson
    • 9
  • Zhongfu Ge
    • 1
  • Elizabeth Halliday
    • 10
  • Julie Kinzelman
    • 11
  • Greg Kleinheinz
    • 12
  • Kasia Przybyla-Kelly
    • 1
  • Christopher Staley
    • 7
  • Zachery Staley
    • 15
  • Helena M. Solo-Gabriele
    • 13
    • 14
    Email author
  1. 1.Great Lakes Science CenterUnited States Geological SurveyPorterUSA
  2. 2.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA
  3. 3.Canada Centre for Inland WatersEnvironment CanadaBurlingtonCanada
  4. 4.Environmental Health DivisionOttawa County Health DepartmentHollandUSA
  5. 5.Remediation and Redevelopment Division, Department of Environmental QualityState of MichiganLansingUSA
  6. 6.Reference Unit for Systemic Infections and Zoonosis, Department of Infectious DiseasesNational Institute of Health Dr. Ricardo JorgeLisbonPortugal
  7. 7.Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, BioTechnology InstituteUniversity of MinnesotaSt PaulUSA
  8. 8.Department of Biology, Institute for Great Lakes ResearchCentral Michigan UniversityMount PleasantUSA
  9. 9.Environmental Health Sciences Department, Fielding School of Public HealthUniversity of California Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA
  10. 10.Woods Hole Oceanographic InstituteWoods HoleUSA
  11. 11.Department of Public HealthCity of RacineRacineUSA
  12. 12.Environmental Research and Innovation CentreUniversity of Wisconsin, OshkoshOshkoshUSA
  13. 13.Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental EngineeringUniversity of MiamiCoral GablesUSA
  14. 14.Oceans and Human Health Center, School of Marine and Atmospheric ScienceUniversity of Miami RosenstielMiamiUSA
  15. 15.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringUniversity of Western OntarioLondonCanada

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