Stay in the know about wildlife, water quality, and ecosystems on Sanibel and Captiva Islands and in Southwest Florida

Water Quality Updates

April 16, 2023
Calli And Eric 1800

SCCF received many offers of assistance to continue our research projects after Hurricane Ian. Director of the University of Florida’s Center for Coastal Solutions, Christine Angelini, Ph.D., and her field assistants drove down in October with a boat to sample monthly sites in the Caloosahatchee estuary and Gulf of Mexico.

SCCF was also invited to join a scientific team to collect samples on the Florida Institute of Oceanography (FIO)’s R/V Hogarth to better understand ocean conditions and the early formation of red tide blooms after Hurricane Ian. The team, consisting of Florida Gulf Coast University faculty and SCCF staff, sampled water from Tampa Bay to Marco Island in October.

A second cruise was conducted in January 2023. The team identified higher levels of nitrogen after Ian and the start of a persistent red tide bloom. The Marine Lab uses several tools to examine the red tide bloom, including a harmful algal bloom scope (HABscope), satellite imagery, microscopy, and nutrient analyses. Much of the work on the water and at the lab on red tide is supported by a gift from the Vince family of Captiva. Their generous contribution, which started in 2018, has provided routine sampling of sites in the Gulf of Mexico and has filled a data gap in Florida statewide databases.

RECON Water Quality Sensor Array

An initial assessment of SCCF’s River, Estuary, and Coastal Observing Network (RECON) sensors revealed wind speeds and storm surge caused by Ian, and unfortunately, a few RECON sites were lost in the storm. Staff are working to restore the previous capabilities of RECON while expanding the network to include another location near the Franklin Lock and Dam to monitor for cyanobacterial blooms in real time.

Freshwater Monitoring

Freshwater ponds and lakes on Sanibel were inundated with storm surge during Hurricane Ian, increasing salinities and total nitrogen concentrations islandwide.

“We are working with the City of Sanibel to conduct routine, bimonthly monitoring of the ponds in 2023,” said SCCF Marine Laboratory Director Eric Milbrandt, Ph.D. “Based on early sampling efforts after the storm, it may take longer than next wet season for salinities in the lakes and ponds to return to pre-storm levels.”

SCCF is currently using modeling tools developed by colleagues at the University of South Florida and the University of Florida to plan a freshwater cyanobacteria bloom response. The response would study the dilution and decay of a bloom in the Caloosahatchee and the fate of toxins and dissolved organic matter.


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