UK
08/06/2015 16:20 BST | Updated 08/06/2015 16:59 BST

Beach Bum Study Will Examine Surfer's Bottoms For Superbug Research

Scientists are launching a study into how surfers are affected when exposed to human sewage in the water - by taking swabs from their bottoms.

The 'Beach Bums' study marks Monday's #WorldOceansDay which is celebrated worldwide.

A team from the University of Exeter is joining forces with environmental campaign group Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) to carry out the research.

male surfer

The study will take swab samples from the bottoms of surfers in Britain

The first project of its kind, the study hopes to recruit 150 surfers and bodyboarders from across the county who are in the water at least three times a month.

The SAS claims the project will be the first time the surfing community have been involved in a scientific study.

Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) Director Andy Cummins told the BBC that they were taking an informed approach to the subject:

"We have been laughing about swab parties going on around the country, but this is set against the background of a really important project.

"Whilst water quality has improved dramatically in the last 20 years, coastal waters can still be contaminated by sewage from both animals and humans, introducing billions of potentially harmful bacteria into the ocean environment"

The team is also asking each participant to recruit someone who does not surf, to form a control group.

The swabs will be taken from the participants' rectums and will give researchers an insight into the microbes that are colonising surfers' guts.

Surfers Against Sewage published a Marine Litter Report in October 2014, mapping out a 5-year action plan to 2020 to reduce UK beach litter by at least 50%.

The rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria has been described as one of the greatest health threats facing humans today, according to researchers.

As microbes become immune to existing antibiotics, the ability to treat common infections is rapidly diminishing and a Government review recently called on the global pharmaceutical industry to create a £1.3 billion innovation fund for new antibiotics research.

Anne Leonard, one of the researchers leading the study at the university's medical school, said: "We know that surfers regularly swallow lots more seawater than other beach users – around 170ml per session, which is more than 10 times that of sea swimmers.

"We've already shown that this water may contain antibiotic resistant bacteria but we have no idea how this might affect the microbes that live in our guts, or how it could impact upon health.

"So we're asking healthy adults who surf or bodyboard at least three times a month to take part in a study that will shed much needed light on the effects of marine pollution."

To participate, volunteers should register their details with Surfers Against Sewage [david@sas.org.uk] and must live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. They will be provided with a Beach Bums kit to collect their samples and also asked to complete a short questionnaire. All data collected will be treated as strictly confidential.