“What’s In The Water”
The historic Mound House is partnering with Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) “Planet Stewardship Education Program” for the “What’s In The Water” Project to study non-point source pollution coming from Fort Myers Beach into the Gulf of Mexico and Estero Bay. Non-point source pollution refers to pollution that comes from many diffuse sources, often linked to rainfall runoff. The study will pay particular attention to nutrients that contribute to the Red Tide Harmful Algae Blooms (HAB) that led to the Summer 2018 water quality crisis. “What’s In The Water” volunteers will conduct Fort Myers Beach – wide water quality samplings, first during the dry season, then in wet season. Dr. Mike Parsons of FGCU and Director of the Vester Marine & Environmental Science Research Field Station will provide his expertise.
“What’s In The Water” actually began with a Facebook post, explained Penny Jarrett, the Mound House part-time Educational Coordinator who initiated the program. “A friend is the Education Program Director at the Wild Center in The Adirondacks and quite involved in Climate Change, and I learned that NOAA was looking for projects for its ‘Planet Stewardship Education Program.’ This immediately interested me, because of the devastating impact Red Tide had last Summer on our marine wildlife, local economy and health of our citizens, plus it appealed to my belief that you should ‘Think Globally But Act Locally,’ so I felt it would be beneficial to those of us who live and work on Fort Myers Beach to better understand our local water quality, along with possible solutions you can personally take to manage our non-point source pollution. There is no doubt Lake Okeechobee and Caloosahatchee River watershed releases are major contributors to our nutrient pollution problem, but we hope that locally we can do our part to contribute to the solution.”
Penny added that “this data will identify island ‘hot spots,’ where we will then conduct further water quality assessments and take appropriate measures, like native groundcover. NOAA is providing $2,500 for items such as student education kits and native plants. FGCU will donate water sampling bottles and coolers, along with laboratory analysis and research expertise. Dr. Parsons recommended collecting two water samples from 200 designated sites, from Estero Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.”
Draw Two Samples
Dry season baseline data testing will be on Saturday, May 18, with two samples drawn between 10 & 11 a.m. “All you need to do,” Penny offered, “is to go to the water’s edge of your assigned area, draw the samples from roughly 18 inches down, cap it, sign your name and the time on the bottles, then drop them off at either the Bay Oaks Recreation Center parking lot at 2731 Oak Street, Fish-Tale Marina outside ship’s store at 7205 Estero Boulevard, or the Mound House kayak shed at 451 Connecticut Street. Should severe weather strike that morning, the Rain Date is Sunday, May 19, during the same timeframe.”
With 200 testing locations, “obviously we need volunteers,” said Penny. “If you can assist, register on-line. Since we will assign volunteers a specific site, please register in advance, by the end of the day on Monday, May 13. Pick up your sample bottles and instructions at the Bay Oaks Recreational Center parking lot on Tuesday, May 14, from 4:30 to 6 p.m., or Newton Beach Park at 4650 Estero Boulevard on Wednesday, May 15, from 3 to 5 p.m.
Once all the water samples arrive at the Mound House by noon on May 18, Dr. Parsons and his FGCU students will test one of the bottles for color-dissolved organic matter and record the data. They will freeze the other water sample and send it to their FGCU laboratory for orthophosphate, nitrate/nitrite, and ammonium analysis. “If you can volunteer to help us with this,” Penny stated, “you do not need to register in advance; just come out. The entire program is a terrific opportunity for parents and teachers to bring their children and students, as water quality is crucial to us all!”
Nutrient “Hot Spots”
Volunteers will reconvene during the summer rainy season, most likely in late August, to conduct the second baseline data sample. Researchers will then analyze the results to identify the highest nutrient level “hot spots” and make recommendations to lower non-point source nutrient pollution, such as reducing or eliminating fertilizer or planting native groundcover and plants. “Depending on where we find these ‘hot spots,’ we will consult business owners, condominium associations, private property owners, and the Town Council of Fort Myers Beach & Staff to develop an appropriate plan of action,” Penny said. “If the recommendations include planting groundcover in pre-approved locations, we will again ask our volunteers to assist with this process.”
These “hot spots” will require additional testing, Penny continued. “We will take monthly water samples from these areas, to determine if we are achieving the desired nutrient level reductions. The Mound House will share this data with the public through nutrient impact and water quality education programs. Once Beach Elementary School students return in August, we will work with their 4th Grade class to conduct water quality programs and perhaps things like native garden plantings, so the May 18 testing day will only be the first step in a long-term project for community support and education, along with what our volunteers will learn from the data that we will collect.”
In addition to the Beach Elementary School component, the Mound House will offer educational outlet programs and activities on non-point source pollution, HABs, marine conservation, and stewardship to the Bay Oaks Recreational Center and other local environmental organizations, “though we are still developing exactly how we will do this,” concluded Penny. “For questions or additional information, contact me at email@example.com. NOAA and FGCU are very supportive of this project, so I hope the Fort Myers Beach community will take advantage of this opportunity, to understand the condition of our local water quality and what we can do to improve it.”
By Gary Mooney