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Pine Island organization discusses water quality

September 12, 2018
Pine Island Eagle

The Greater Pine Island Civic Association invited Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani to its meeting last week to discuss the water quality issues Southwest Florida has recently been facing. Beaches in Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties have seen record levels of dead sea life for the last several months due to red tide and blue-green algae blooms.

Cassani is a career scientist and director/officer committee chair of the Calusa Waterkeeper. The group was previously known as CRCA-Riverwatch.

"The Calusa River Watch was started in 1997 and after getting our full licensing in 2016 became the Calusa Waterkeeper, Inc.," Cassani said. "A lot of what I do is policy development and the Waterkeepers in Florida are trying to get the 'Harmful Algae Bloom' (HAB) task force reinstated."

The state Legislature created the HAB task force "for the purpose of determining research, monitoring, control, and mitigation strategies for red tide and other harmful algal blooms in Florida waters."

In 2018, Southwest Florida has been faced with the worst cyanobacteria and red tide exposures in many years.

"When we talk about a bloom, we're talking about a population explosion," Cassani said. "I did a flyover on June 22 and flew about 40 miles of river and I'll never forget what I saw - it was staggering.

"The extent and intensity of this cyanobacteria bloom is unbelievable that's why cyanobacteria is called the 'cells from hell'," Cassani said. "These are harmful algae blooms that can have severe impacts on human health, and aquatic life.

"These blooms are not to be taken lightly," Cassani said. "There are many scientists that now think that harmful algae blooms are the greatest threat to the water quality."

Both the cyanobacteria and the red tide produce toxins.

"These are some of the most toxic compounds on the planet," Cassani said. "Unfortunately, they are unregulated and can affect liver function. We're seeing communities in Florida where these toxins are in the public water supply and we're seeing statistically higher incidence of liver cancer.

"Public notification is another big problem in Florida," Cassani said. "The one-day recreational exposure guideline is 4 mg/l that's 4 parts per billion. We did some sampling on June 25 and we were getting levels at 40,000 parts per billion. That's how toxic this can be."

Florida Fish and Wildlife recommends: "The best way to prevent exposure to blue-green algae toxins is to avoid water where scum, foam or algae mats are present or where water is a greenish color."

The Florida Department of Health offers these additional precautions:

Do not drink, cook or shower with untreated water from lakes, ponds or streams.

Do not allow pets or livestock to swim in or drink scummy water.

If you or your animals accidentally get into a blue-green algae bloom, wash with fresh water and soap after skin contact, and avoid swallowing or inhaling water. Wash animals' fur thoroughly before they start to groom themselves.

Avoid exposure to irrigation water drawn from untreated sources.

Notify your local water quality officials if you notice unusual changes in the taste or smell of your tap water.

"You don't want to get it on you, you don't want to inhale it, and you don't want to ingest it," Cassani said. "Calusa Waterkeepers is all about drinkable, fishable, swimmable water."

Cassani doesn't recommend eating fish from local waters.

"The $64,000 question becomes: 'Is it here? Is it in our fish, is it in our water?' It absolutely is!"

Cassani believes the economic effects Southwest Florida is experiencing today won't reach full impact until some time next year.

Calusa Waterkeepers is having an "Economic Town Hall" meeting at the Royal Palms Dinner Theater Monday, Oct. 15, starting at 6:30 p.m. The public is invited. For additional information, visit the Calusa Waterkeeper website:



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