What’s in the Water? Part II


Water Testing Needs Volunteers

The historic Mound House is partnering with Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Planet Stewardship Education Program with 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 from many diffuse sources, often linked to rainfall runoff. It will pay particular attention to nutrients that contribute to Red Tide, Harmful Algae Blooms (HAB) and Blue-Green Algae that led to the Summer 2018 water quality crisis. What’s In The Water volunteers will conduct Fort Myers Beach-wide water quality samplings on Saturday afternoon, October 5.

NOAA is providing $2,500 for items such as student education kits and native plants. Dr. Mike Parsons of FGCU, Director of its Vester Marine & Environmental Science Research Field Station, and a member of the State of Florida’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force, provides his expertise; with FGCU donating water sampling bottles, coolers and laboratory analysis.

The initial set of collecting and analyzing of two water samples from 46 locations began on May 18, explained Penny Jarrett, Mound House Educational Coordinator who initiated the program. “FGCU tested the first sample on site at the Mound House for color-dissolved organic matter, turbidity, chlorophyll and salinity and recorded the data. It is my understanding that this is an important piece of the puzzle, to indicate what pollutants are coming to our waters from the nearby tributaries and watershed, as basically we are looking for non-source point pollution for Fort Myers Beach.”

Patience Is A Virtue

Penny stated, “The FGCU folks froze the second sample – and they tell me that can stay frozen for over a year or more and still provide accurate data – and they tested that for Total Nitrogen and Total Phosphorous at the FGCU laboratory, under the direction of Haruka Urakawa, a laboratory assistant who is a wonderful woman with a bright personality and incredibly thorough. Her work is meticulous and she adds that information to our spread sheets, as we pull all of this complicated data together. I know people hope for quicker results, but Dr. Parsons is extraordinarily busy and pulled in a lot of different directions, but his participation and that of his students and team are essentially to our success, so patience in our case is a virtue!”

FGCU students test water samples at the Mound House during the first What’s in the Water? event in May. Photo courtesy of Blue Turtle Galleries.

The next baseline data testing session is Saturday, October 5, with two more samples drawn between 2 & 3 p.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 Fish-Tale Marina outside the Ship’s Store at 7205 Estero Boulevard or the Mound House kayak shed at 451 Connecticut Street. Should severe weather strike, the Rain Date is Sunday, October 6, at the same time. We chose 2 to 3 p.m. because that is low tide on Fort Myers Beach, and that increases the chances that any pollutants we collect are most likely from our island.”

Fifty volunteers turned out on May 18, allowing for 46 water testing sites. “That number of volunteers was tremendous,” Penny related, “and we hope that many or more join us on October 5 so we can at least cover those locations again. With so many testing sites, obviously we need volunteers, so if you can assist, register on-line at the Town website by Sunday, September 29, at bit.ly/WaterTestSP

Pick up your sample bottles and instructions at the Bay Oaks Recreational Center lobby on Monday, September 30, from 4:30 to 6 p.m., or at the Newton Beach Park picnic tables at 4650 Estero Boulevard on Tuesday, October 1, from 3 to 5 p.m.”

Once all water samples arrive at the Mound House on October 5, Dr. Parsons and his FGCU students will perform the same tests as in May. “If you can volunteer to help with testing,” Penny explained, “you do not need to register in advance; just come out. While the FGCU students and volunteers perform the testing, Dr. Parsons will give an informal presentation on what we are doing and on water quality in general, as water quality is crucial to us all!”

After the analysis of the October 5 data, “we will plot that on the spread sheets as well,” Penny offered, “and compare those numbers going forward, to find a pattern that hopefully indicates water quality improvement from Fort Myers Beach non-point pollution sources. We should be able to locate areas on the island that have higher nutrient indicators from fertilizers that are running off the land into our waters, and that is true for the Gulf as well as for the Bay, and that is what NOAA is seeking, because water moves with the tides and currents. This will help us to better manage our landscaping and properties, as we know fertilizers contribute to HABs, Red Tide and Blue-Green Algae.”

Penny said she hopes these findings will convince people to landscape their yards with native plants that require less fertilizer, are more drought-tolerant, and require little to no irrigation, to not only reduce runoff, “but bring about a better balance to our wildlife by providing more pollinators and nectar plants and birds and animals that contribute to the overall health of our ecosystem,” added Penny. “We will eventually create a GIS Map, though we are still seeking additional funds for that, as our NOAA grant does not cover this. After what we all went through with water quality last year, it is the personal responsibility of all islanders to minimize the impact of our own nutrient sources, and this data will allow us to make recommendations for the community as a whole.”

School Program

NOAA funds do sponsor other water quality initiatives, such as Penny’s participation with Beach Elementary School educational classes. “The kids, along with their teacher, Ms. Zamniak, are wonderful! The students are part of a stewardship project that focuses on the watershed. The next class with them will feature Stephanie Erickson from the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve who will bring a watershed model to show the kids visually how factors like fertilizer and pesticides and litter and manure all affect our waterways, as well as what the Aquatic Preserve tests for when it comes to water quality. The students are eager to participate, ask great questions and are a joy to work with, as they already understand that water is everything and we all must do something about it. To show them what they can personally do, we will plant a demonstration garden full of plants that are Florida natives and are drought-resistant and do not require any fertilizer. We will also utilize some of the NOAA funds to sponsor presentations at the upcoming Mound House Speaker Series, like with Roger Hammer, Stephen Brown and Dr. Parsons.”

For questions or additional information about the Water Testing, contact Penny at penny@fmbgov.com.

“Remember,” she concluded, “we can all do our part and we can all make a difference to help heal our local waters, as it literally all does begin right in our own backyards!”


By Gary Mooney