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Calusa Waterkeeper reports high fecal indicator bacteria at popular SWFL beach Bacteria presents risk of illness, rash for beachgoers

PINE ISLAND, Fla. (OCT. 4, 2019) — Calusa Waterkeeper Rangers Joe and Kaye Vaughn and Melanie Hoff sampled for fecal indicator bacteria at Tropical Point Park, a Lee County facility on Pine Island on Sept. 30. The park is on the west side of Matlacha Pass, a state aquatic preserve where residents of the area have been observed swimming and launching paddle craft from the park into Matlacha Pass. The level of fecal indicator bacteria at this park at the time of sampling was nearly nine times the Florida Department of Health’s (FDOH) threshold for closing a coastal beach.

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. One type of bacteria used to measure fecal bacteria contamination in coastal and brackish waters is enterococci. The FDOH enterococci threshold for closing a coastal beach is above 70 MPN / 100 ml. The level of enterococci in the Tropical Point Park sample was 627 MPN / 100 ml, as determined by Calusa Waterkeeper analysis using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved protocols.

“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,” said John Cassani, Calusa Waterkeeper.

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.

The FDOH and Lee County officials have been notified but have not yet indicated whether they will post signs alerting the public of the hazard.

“As residents of the Tropical Point Subdivision, we just want the area to be safe for everyone who uses it. This is the only beach on Pine Island, and it is packed during season. Schools use it for field trips, people fish there, people kayak and paddle board there. All of the drainage canals in our subdivision flow directly to the boat launch at Tropical Point Park, so we chose to test there. This boat launch flows directly to Matlacha Pass Refuge, which is supposed to be a protected body of water,” said Kaye Vaugh.

“Thanks to the efforts of Calusa Waterkeeper sampling, local residents and schools that use this location can now be aware of these unsafe conditions. We have also forwarded the results to state and local agencies. The results also remind us of the need to address the sources of fecal bacteria,” said Hoff.

Learn more about Calusa Waterkeeper’s Ranger program, water testing and reporting initiatives, please visit calusawaterkeeper.org.

About Calusa Waterkeeper

Calusa Waterkeeper (CWK) 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.” CWK’s project area covers more than 1,000 square miles of water, and its work includes testing and reporting, regulatory advisories, educational and community outreach, and public advocacy. CWK is a member of the international Waterkeeper Alliance, the largest and fastest growing nonprofit solely focused on clean water, with more than 300 Waterkeeper Organizations and Affiliates on the frontlines of the global water crisis, patrolling and protecting more than 2.5 million square miles of rivers, lakes and coastal waterways on six continents.