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Volunteers being sought for water quality testing

By Staff | Apr 10, 2019

Volunteers are being sought for the “What’s in the Water” project on Fort Myers Beach.

In an effort to study “non-point source pollution” coming from Fort Myers Beach and going into the Gulf and Estero Bay, volunteers will collect water samples during in May during the dry season.

Penny Jarrett, education coordinator at the Mound House, said the project came about after she read about an opportunity to apply for the Planet Stewardship Education Program, which is offered through NOAA.

“I have tremendous respect and admiration for NOAA and thought it would be really wonderful to have some expertise from NOAA and guidance and just be part of the things that they are doing,” she said.

Jarrett had just 48 hours to apply and she did so because she saw the impacts of red tide last summer. She said she wanted to do something to make a difference, while contributing to the understanding of water quality.

“It was so hard to see so many animals die and the dead fish on the beach,” she said. “That was the motivation, the respect for NOAA and having endured the red tide and thinking if there was anything we could do as an island community, a barrier island.”

Jarrett believes she was accepted into NOAA’s program because of the non-point source pollution project looking into the possibility of nutrients linking to red tide alga blooms, which relates to NOAA science in a big way.

Since Jarrett is not a water quality scientist, but rather an environmental science educator, she met with the Vester Marine & Environmental Science Research Field Station Director Dr. Michael Parsons to talk about the project.

“I was going to test some particular sites with some students, on a smaller scale, but we talked and he suggested doing an island wide baseline data – one in the dry season and one in the wet season,” she explained, which includes 200 sites.

Florida Gulf Coast University is donating its services, which she said is phenomenal. Those services consist of supplying the equipment, water sampling bottles, coolers and laboratory analysis, which they need to complete the water quality testing.

Up to $2,500 will be received from NOAA to carry out the project, which includes student water quality education kits and native plants.

“I will be working with Mound House staff and Dr. Parson’s graduate assistant, Jessica Schroeder, to recruit and train volunteers to collect the water samples. A Google doc will be used for volunteer sign-up and communications. A training meeting will be held prior to the water sampling date,” she said.

The dry season baseline data water quality testing is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday, May 18. Volunteers are currently being sought for the water testing.

Those interested in getting involved are encouraged to visit www.fortmyersbeachfl.gov/FormCenter/Water-Quality-Testing-3/Water-Quality-Testing-Volunteer-37 . The registration information, she said includes the street they live.

Jarrett said that particular piece of information is important because the hope is to have the volunteer do the water sample close to, or on, the street on which they live.

“We need addresses so we can plot it out,” she said. “We are going to flag the sites. Then the person would go and collect the water and take the flag away and go to the drop off location. That is how we are going to facilitate getting the 200 samples. As long as I get the volunteers to attend the training and pick up their bottles and things for the collection and they follow through, it will be a great community effort.”

Two water samples will taken from the 200 designated sites. The water samples will be collected at a depth of approximately 18 inches under the surface level on the Gulf side and at the end of the canal on the Estero Bay side.

At the end of the collection time, the samples will go to drop-off locations and then be brought to the Mound House.

“At the Mound House, Dr. Parsons and FGCU students will have tables set up to test one of the two bottles from each sample site with a process referred to as a Triology – CDOM (color dissolved organic matter). Volunteers can participate by running the samples and recording the data. Informational posters will be on display to educate the public about the water quality analysis being done. The other water sample from each of the 200 sites will be frozen and sent to the FGCU lab for orthophosphate, nitrate/nitrite, and ammonium analysis,” she said.

If the day goes well, Jarrett said they should have some good data with which to start.

The second water sampling event will be done during the rainy season at a date still to be determined.

Jarrett said the data from each water assessment will be analyzed and sites that show the highest level of nutrients will be identified as hot spots. The land around the hot spots will be looked at to see what kinds of recommendations could be given to modify the existing landscape.

She said it is her hope that business owners and property owners and the Town would alter, or modify the landscape for more native plants.

Jarrett said funding from NOAA would be used to purchase the plants and volunteers would be recruited to help with installing new plantings on the appropriate, pre-approved locations.

In May of next year, Jarrett said they will do another large scale water quality test to see if there was a reduction of non-point pollution from Fort Myers Beach.

“I worked in wildlife conservation for most of my career. I would love to see the water healthier because that is the key to having healthy wildlife,” she said.