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Water sample collection volunteers needed

September 25, 2019
By MEGHAN BRADBURY ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Volunteers are being sought again for the What's in the Water project, which involves the collection of water samples to study the non-point source pollution coming from Fort Myers Beach and going into the Gulf of Mexico and Estero Bay.

The island-wide water testing will take place from 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5. Those interested can register at The deadline to register is Friday, Sept. 27.

"It literally probably doesn't take more than a half an hour between collecting the sample and dropping it off. It's a pretty quick volunteer effort," Mound House Education Coordinator Penny Jarret said.

The collection will take place at the same 46 sites done in May.

"It encircles the island all along the Gulf and the bay. We are also testing the lagoons, that is four of the 46 sites. It is divided evenly along the Gulf, bay and lagoons," she said.

Volunteers are asked to pick up their water collection bottles, as well as instructions from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 30, at Bay Oaks Rec Center lobby, or from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1, at Newton Park picnic tables.

On the day of the water testing, volunteers will collect two water samples at their assigned site at 18 inches below the water's surface, up to their elbow, at waist depth in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the canal opening to the Estero Bay. Once collected, volunteers are asked to label their bottles with their name and time of collection.

Once samples are completed volunteers need to then promptly bring them to the Mound House by the kayak shed, or outside the Fishtale Marine store. The samples must be kept in coolers.

The volunteers are invited to help process the water samples with Florida Gulf Coast University and learn about their water quality research from 3 to 4 p.m.

"At the Mound House we will test one of the samples for CDOM," Jarrett said of color dissolved organic matter. "The other sample gets frozen and processed at FGCU at their lab; at a very excellent lab."

Jarrett said as of Sunday afternoon she had approximately 21 volunteers from the primary people who did the first sampling in May.

"There are a number of folks, for various reasons, that are not going to be able to do it this time, but want to stay informed," she said.

The "What's in the Water" project came about after Jarrett read about an opportunity to apply for the Planet Stewardship Education Program, which is offered through NOAA. She applied for the project because she personally witnessed how the red tide impacted the beach last summer, the "lost summer."

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. That conversation led to doing an island wide baseline data, one in the dry season and the other in the wet season.

Florida Gulf Coast University is donating their services by supplying the equipment, water sampling bottles, coolers and laboratory analysis, which is needed to complete the water quality testing.

The first volunteer effort in collecting water was done on May 18. Jarrett said data has been collected, but they are waiting to compare it to the October collection, so they have data regarding the dry and wet season.

"They (Keep Lee County Beautiful) just had the ocean cleanup and it was a tremendous effort. Fort Myers Beach had more than 300 people that came out to pick up the trash, which you can see. This is looking at elements you can't see, but still is an important perimeter. It's important information to collect as far as water quality," she said, adding that it is in the same bucket as the cleanup. "Volunteers can help with monitoring the water quality and being involved with cleanups of plastics. It's the holistic effort when you consider both of them."

Since the What's in the Water project began, Jarrett started having programs at Beach Elementary.

"We've done a watershed model program for the fourth grade students to learn our local watershed and how it transforms the water quality of the Gulf and Bay," Jarrett said. "It was a neat program."

Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve loaned Jarrett a model for the program at the school. The plastic model includes a terrain with body of water, river, creeks and roads. She said the kids had the opportunity to help set up houses, farming and development, as well as trees.

The students then sprinkled on some Kool-Aid type powder, acting as fertilizer, pesticide and maneuver. They then got a spray bottle to see where the water ran.

"It is so visual. You can really see what is happening because of the elevation and all things run to the water. They had good questions. Very good observation skills of seeing what is happening.

The next program for the fourth graders will include water testing with Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve. Jarrett is also working on creating demonstration gardens of native plants to teach the kids that they are better for water quality and the environment.

The NOAA Stewardship Education Program runs through the school year, which means the grant money will run out.

"The hope will be that through some other funding sources, perhaps the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, we can continue to do these water samplings during dry and wet season," Jarrett said, in order to be a source of information on how the water quality is around the island.

Currently, Florida Gulf Coast University is funding the water quality portion of the project.

"FGCU has been the primary financial and scientific support for this project. I am really grateful," Jarrett said. "Without their involvement, the water quality sampling wouldn't be occurring. I wouldn't have access to the laboratory and the equipment they used."

In addition to Dr. Parsons, FGCU Laboratory Coordinator Haruka Urakawa, who has processed the May 18 samples, and Grad Student Nicole Weigold have played a significant role in the What's in the Water project.



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