The creator of a locally viral video showing what appears to be human feces scattered in the wrack line of a popular Fairhope beach said he did not intend to cause controversy, but rather create awareness of an apparent public health issue at a frequented Eastern Shore coastline.
Elliott Gordon visited the public beach between the Orange Street pier and the American Legion early June 6, the night after a jubilee. Hoping for signs of fish, what he found was much different.
Gordon’s video, shared on his personal Facebook page the same day, showed what appeared to be large amounts of fecal matter on the shoreline for what he said was “a few hundred yards.” Gordon initially believed it was human feces and posted the video on Facebook to let the community know about a public health hazard. Within two days, it had been viewed nearly 40,000 times and shared by nearly 1,000 people.
“My biggest concern was that people fish there, and people bring their kids to play down there, and there was what appeared to be raw sewage on the beach,” Gordon said.
Gordon said he and a handful of other local business owners routinely patrol the Fairhope beach for trash, but he was not going to handle fecal matter.
“We care about the community,” he said. “I grew up on the bay and I want others to be able to enjoy the same things I did.”
The city of Fairhope posted a statement on its Facebook page June 8 addressing the video and claiming the fecal matter came from Canada geese frequenting the beach.
“We are aware of the situation and crews are on the beach cleaning it up,” the statement read. “We are also getting reports of dead fish washing ashore. We are fairly certain it is fecal matter from geese. We will be sending off a sample for testing.”
Later in the evening, City Council President Jack Burrell offered more details. Burrell said the city believes the fecal matter is animal in origin, and probably from the Canada geese population.
“One thing we know for certain is that the city of Fairhope did not have a sewage spill,” he said. We’ve had no lift stations that leaked, they’ve all been inspected. Our sewer treatment plant has had no spills.”
Burrell said a sample of the fecal matter has been sent to a laboratory and the city hopes to have results in a few days. He said if the waste originated from the city’s sewage treatment plant about a mile away, there would have been paper, plastic and other items present, too.
“It doesn’t have the physical characteristics of human waste,” he said. “There is no paper, no plastic, which would be there if something had been dumped from a ship or some other waste spill. It just doesn’t have that signature.
“What we do know is there are a lot of geese in the area,” he continued. “I was there today and they were swimming right offshore of the beach. We also know that we had a jubilee there Thursday and Friday night. And one could assume maybe some geese had been down there feeding on the carcasses of marine life and other organic material, which may have led to more poop on the beach.”
Burrell said the feces were removed by a crew from the Public Works department.
On Monday afternoon a red notice from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management was posted beside the Orange Street Pier, warning of potentially high bacteria levels. The signed advised against swimming in the water until tests could be completed.
In 2012, the city euthanized about 40 geese from the public beach to the north, citing similar water pollution issues.
“In the future, we may have to decide how to deal with the geese issue if becomes a recurring problem again,” Burrell said. “With a large goose population it is always a possibility. We’ll have to cross that bridge when we get there.”
Late Monday evening, photos surfaced on social media showing similar fecal matter, bird feathers and tracks near the Village Point Pier in Daphne.
According to the Canada Geese Management Website, based in Lincoln, Nebraska, Canada geese are notorious for leaving large quantities of feces wherever they settle. The site says a single Canada goose can defecate as often as every 20 minutes and up to 1.5 pounds a day.
Information from Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife advises when people feed the geese food that is not part of their natural diet, the defecation issue becomes worse and it can attract more geese to the area. Geese, ducks, seagulls and other waterfowl are fed often by visitors to Fairhope’s beaches.
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