On those hot, summer days, few things are better than taking a trip to the beach, inhaling that salt air and swimming in the ocean — unless the beach is polluted.

We read an article on Forbes.com that beach closures are fairly common and are occurring more frequently, according to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council:

Closures and health advisory days at nationwide ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches topped 20,000 in 2005, the highest number since the Natural Resources Defense Council started tracking the problem 16 years ago. At fault? Sewage and storm water runoff reaching our beaches are a big part of the problem, along with people crowding the nation's shores without paying enough attention to their impact.

Although people can’t eliminate all of the pollution themselves, there are some actions we can take to improve the problem:

Make sure kids swim in diapers with plastic pants, so they don't leak into the water, says Stoner. Leaving trash on the sand attracts wildlife, which leave their feces on the beach and contaminate the water. Picking up after your pet also can prevent fecal bacteria from getting into the water.

It’s sound advice, considering the fact that many beachgoers have reported stomach problems, skin rashes, pink eye and ear and respiratory infections. Other people may also feel ill from contaminants at the beach, but don’t visit their doctor or associate the problem with the seashore environment.

And if it’s that bad for people, we can only speculate about how marine creatures must feel (since we’re pretty sure they don’t visit their doctor, either.)

Story by Susan Cosier. This article originally appeared in Plenty in June 2007. The story was added to MNN.com in July 2009.

Copyright Environ Press 2007.