Local councils might be trying to wash their hands of the algal bloom blanketing the Waipu Cove beach, but the Northland District Health Board would probably advise them to avoid the water out there this week.
A thick carpet of algae is releasing a putrid stench and adding to the stink coming from the nearby stream, which contains rotting algae.
However, the Whangarei District Council (WDC) and the Northland Regional Council (NRC) are both stepping away from the issue, claiming that the beach doesn't fall into their jurisdiction and isn't their responsibility. WDC waste and drainage manager Andrew Carvell said the district council's responsibility is the stream, not the beach.
Northland Regional Council environmental officer Jean-Charles Perquin also said that cleaning the beach was not the regional council's responsibility.
Given that the beach algae has started drifting back up the river, it would appear the councils are going around in circles.
Meanwhile, Waipu local Ian Bonasich took his children swimming in the rock pools near some algae build-up last week, and told the Northern Advocate they both fell sick with vomiting and diarrhoea.
"We are worried about the water quality. We know of three other children who got sick after swimming around the same time," Mr Bonasich said.
He said he looked on the district council's website after his children got sick for more information and he found nothing.
"Our 4-year-old couldn't hold anything down. We've never seen her like that before. Both kids are still a little lethargic and it's a week later," he said.
"We've got a 9-month-old; luckily we didn't take her swimming."
It wasn't really fair on the locals or tourists, he said.
"We've noticed so many people pull up, get out, see the beach and then get back in their cars and drive off," he said.
Cove Cafe owner Bob Hirst said the beach smells even worse now.
"Several people left the cafe yesterday. I tried to explain what it was but they just left. It's definitely affected our business," Mr Hirst said.
Northland District Health Board's Paul Reid said although there were no reports of direct health issues from the algae, he advised swimmers to avoid any water which was discoloured.
If the board receives any reports, it will test the water and issue a public health warning if necessary, he said.
NRC's Mr Perquin said he was aware that there had been a second episode of algae washing up on the beach.
When asked if this algae washing into the stream was essentially reversing the district council's process of dredging it out, he said: "I can't read into the future, potentially yes".
"Our responsibility is about informing the public about the contamination of the stream."
He added that a sign had been erected.
Last month WDC tested the stream for sewage as it was giving off a putrid stench, which turned out to be seaweed and algae which, in the stagnant stream, had started to rot.
"Our consent application is due to be issued on Friday so we can drain the water out of the estuary," said Mr Carvell.
He said the WDC was yet to work out the logistics of the process in order to minimise contamination of the beach with the black sediment that is rotting algae and weed.