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Report reveals high levels of fecal matter at Tropical Point

October 16, 2019
By ED FRANKS (efranks@breezenewspapers.com) , Pine Island Eagle

In a report issued on Oct. 4 by the Calusa Waterkeeper, high levels of fecal matter (enterococci bacteria) were found at Tropical Point in St. James City. The recorded levels were nearly nine times above the threshold permitted by Florida Department of Health for beach water.

Calusa Waterkeep-er John Cassani ex-plained, "CWK does what we call sentinel sampling for fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) at various waterways in Lee County. When a high level is detected, we begin looking for other data to verify, or send a sample to a certified laboratory for verification."

According to the CWK report, Waterkeeper rangers Joe and Kaye Vaughn and Melanie Hoff, all residents of Tropical Point, performed the test Sept. 30. The sample was analyzed at the CWK laboratory in Buckingham for enterococci bacteria.

Article Photos

Tropical Point Park.

The test results indicated the level of enterococci in the Tropical Point Park sample was 627 MPN / 100 ml, using Environmental Protection Agency approved protocols. The FDOH enterococci threshold for closing a coastal beach is anything above 70 MPN / 100 ml.

Matlacha Pass has been verified impaired by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for bacteria in shellfish starting in 2008. Shellfish harvesting in Matlacha Pass is prohibited by Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services due to shellfish contamination by fecal bacteria.

"CWK has asked FDOH as part of multiple messages to Mr. Brian Bates from July to September 2019 asking the FDOH to start sampling outside of the coastal beaches, especially for waters verified impaired by FDEP for FIB," Cassani said. "Mr. Bates response was that unless the water in question is designated as a public swimming area by FDOH or is part of the Healthy Beaches program, FDOH would not routinely sample or post warning signs of bacterial contamination."

Fecal indicator bacteria can cause rashes and gastrointestinal illness and are used by the FDOH as an indicator of other possible pathogens in the water.

CWK said there are numerous possible causes: wildlife, domestic pets and human sources. Human sources would be from leaky wastewater lines or septic tanks.

In the report Cassani said, "Fecal bacteria contamination has become widespread in Southwest Florida, including high value waters used for recreation like Matlacha Pass, a state aquatic preserve. Matlacha Pass has a non-degradation standard determined by statute. We're hoping that this latest report shared with FDOH and local governments will result in a rapid response to alert the public of dangerous contamination at this public access point."

The park is located on Matlacha Pass on the eastern side of Pine Island at the end of Tropical Point Drive in St. James City. The beach is mostly used for kayak launches but bathers are often there on weekends.

"It's pretty empty now but on the weekends there's lots of people here," Julie Smiley said. She recently moved from Key West to live on Pine Island near Tropical Point. "It's a busy little beach on the weekends with lots of kids wading in the water. Someone needs to put up a sign warning people about the danger."

No signs have been posted to date.

Calusa Waterkeeper is a donation, member and grant-supported Fort Myers-based 501(c)(3) whose mission is to "Protect and Restore the Caloosahatchee River from Lake Okeechobee to the Coastal Waters."

Learn more about Calusa Waterkeep-er's Ranger program, water testing and reporting initiatives, please visit calusawaterkeeper.org.

 
 

 

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