On Saturday morning, May 18, I was already on the Lani Kai Island Resort beach before 11 a.m.! Before you ask if I needed aspirin or other remedies that evening or if my head was aching the next morning, know that by random chance, the Lani Kai was the testing location assigned to me as part of the What’s In The Water Project sponsored by the historic Mound House, in partnership with Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Planet Stewardship Education Program.
The What’s In The Water Project will study non-point source pollution coming from Fort Myers Beach into the Gulf of Mexico and Estero Bay. It will pay particular attention to nutrients that contributed to the Red Tide Harmful Algae Bloom (HAB) during the summer 2018 water quality crisis. What’s In The Water volunteers collected two water quality samples at 42 Fort Myers Beach-wide locations during dry season on May 18 between 10 and 11 a.m. They then took their samples to the Mound House, where Dr. Mike Parsons of FGCU and Director of the Vester Marine & Environmental Science Research Field Station, and several of his students, provided testing and expertise.
My Saturday Morning
I arrived at the Lani Kai around 10:50 a.m., on a gorgeous but hot Saturday morning, with the beach already quite full of fun-loving patrons. As I was testing a Gulf of Mexico location, project instructions dictated that I wade in waist deep. Prior to taking my two official samples, I first dipped the bottles into the Gulf to shake and wash out three times. On the fourth, at a level past my elbow, I took my two samples, capped the bottles, made my way on shore to dry off both myself and the two samples, then noted on them my name, location and my test time of 10:55 a.m. Since temperatures that morning were already soaring toward the low 90s, I brought a cooler of ice in which I placed the two sample bottles so the extreme heat would not contaminate them, then I made my way to drop them off at the Mound House.
Dr. Parsons and his students immediately tested one sample for color-dissolved organic matter and recorded the data. They froze the other to send to their FGCU laboratory for orthophosphate, nitrate/nitrite and ammonium analysis at a later time. Volunteers will reconvene during the summer rainy season, most likely in September, to conduct a second water quality 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 ground cover and plants. These “hot spots” will require additional testing, perhaps monthly, to determine if we are achieving the desired nutrient level reductions, so the May 18 testing day is only the first step in a long-term project.
While his students did the water sample testing, Dr. Parson spoke to the volunteers. “Thank you for showing up and we hope you continue to do so, as this is a true community project with citizen-scientists who provide us with a lot of valid data right now, to give us a true snapshot of our water at this exact point in time, that we can use as a baseline to build upon when we take future readings. We will do this again in about six months, during the wet season, and while we hope to obtain answers, often at the early stage, we look at the numbers, scratch our heads and ask, ‘What does this mean?’”
He would like to eventually involve boaters as water testers, “so when they see dead fish, they collect samples they get back to us, so we can study this information, but we have details to iron out before beginning this. We hope to eventually identify Fort Myers Beach water quality ‘hot spots’ that we will further study to determine what to do to fix them. We can even map out high-risk zones once we know the levels.”
Dr. Parsons said he appreciated how many Fort Myers Beach environmental and educational organizations unite to address local water quality. “There is the Mound House, Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve, Vester Field Station, FGCU Water School, the Town of Fort Myers Beach, and soon there will be the Welcome & Discovery Center at Lovers Key State Park, and many others, all coming together to study the Estero Bay and Gulf, to refine this data to save our water quality. Right now, when conditions worsen, all we can advise people is if you see algae, don’t go in the water, and it is just currently that simple, but we need better long-range answers and solutions.”
How It Began
What’s In The Water began with a simple Facebook post, explained Penny Jarrett, the Mound House part-time Educational Coordinator who initiated the project. “A friend is the Education Program Director at the Wild Center 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, plus it appealed to my belief that you ‘Think Globally But Act Locally.’” NOAA provided $2,500 for items such as student education kits and native plants. FGCU donated water sampling bottles and coolers, along with laboratory analysis and research expertise.
The Mound House will share this data with the public through nutrient impact and water quality education programs on non-point source pollution, HABs, marine conservation, and stewardship to the Bay Oaks Recreational Center, Beach Elementary School, local environmental organizations and its own programming. For questions, information or to volunteer for future water sample collections, contact Penny at email@example.com to take advantage of this opportunity, understand the condition of our local water quality, and what we can do to improve it.
By Gary Mooney