Aucklanders and others living on the shores of the Hauraki Gulf have been waiting since Wednesday to find out if their sea water is safe.

It is hard to imagine a greater threat to enjoyment of northern life than advice to stay off the beaches. Yet the authorities that have given this advice do not appear to be in a particular hurry to find out what has killed dogs, penguins and fish.

They have been conducting tests and awaiting results as if this was an isolated mishap in some part of the region. Someone needs reminding that more than a million people are rather anxious to know what is going on.

The entire east coast of Auckland, the Waitemata Harbour, the Gulf islands' beaches, the Firth of Thames and western Coromandel coast are effectively closed.

Councils have warned against bringing children or pets to any beach. If this was a weekend in summer there would be an outcry by now and quite rightly.

We should be able to expect more urgency on a scare of this scale.

Part of the problem may be the multiplicity of agencies involved. The Department of Conservation is collecting the carcasses, the Ministry of Agriculture is commissioning the tests, the Auckland Regional Public Health Service is assessing the human risk. No body seems able to hurry things along.

DoC says the culprit could not be the 1080 poison it is currently spreading on Rangitoto and Motutapu, since the symptoms are different.

It seems too widespread for an algal disease. A MAF official says it might never identify the toxins in the dead animals.

They would do well to treat this scare as a rehearsal for one in mid-summer.

If our marine monitors cannot do better than this we should look overseas for an agency that can.