New website, rules keep beachgoers safe in Suncoast waters

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- Florida's tourism agency is making it even easier for vacationers to find the perfect beach to fit their vacation wish list with an interactive website.

The Suncoast's Longboat Key, for instance, matches 50 percent for someone looking for a romantic and adventurous beach-- making you feel like you're already there, with an interactive Google map view.

Visitors Jack and Gwen Dobbin from Ontario see the new site as a great tool.

"You know what, that would probably be enjoyable for a lot of people,” a visitor noted, “because young couples, you know, that might not want to be bothered with the little ones... It's a good idea."

While the new site is aimed at attracting more visitors to the Suncoast beaches, there are concerns about tourists staying away because of recent no-swim advisories.

Keeping tourists and residents safe in the water is something about which the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is attempting to be proactive.

After 12 years, the EPA has just released new guidelines for water monitoring and notifying the public.

One primary change places a more protective swimmer safety threshold when it comes to bacteria levels—measured by a "beach action value" or BVA.

The current BVA level necessary to issue a no-swim advisory is 140 colony forming units (CFU); but the new rules lower it by more than half at 60 units.

"It’s a great idea -- it's fantastic. I love that. It's a tremendous initiative. Especially with little guys around. It will pay off in the long run for the little kids."

Other major changes would include gaining faster results with same-day sample technology, and monitoring beaches known to have higher CFU readings in the water and more beachgoers.

The state has two years to implement the new federal guidance changes in order to continue to receive federal grants.