Fecal Indicator Bacteria (FIB)
Bacteria contamination plaguing Florida waterways has arguably reached a crisis point. For example, Billy’s Creek, a tributary flowing into the Caloosahatchee near downtown Fort Myers, has long been a hot spot for Enterococci bacteria. Enterococcus is used as an indicator of fecal contamination which can carry disease-spreading bacterium such as E. Coli.
Independent testing of several Lee County waterways is routinely performed by Calusa Waterkeeper staff and volunteer rangers. Test results are determined in our independent lab and at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) depending on the number of samples. Calusa Waterkeeper’s close watch of local creeks has compelled more monitoring by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Enterococci bacteria can cause gastrointestinal illness, infections and rashes. Fecal indicator bacteria tests high in several Southwest Florida creeks both in the wet and dry season, but is commonly driven by stormwater runoff which carries bacteria into area waterways.
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Fecal Indicator Bacteria
Eleven Southwest Florida beaches got poor marks after tests showed high fecal bacteria counts. At popular Bonita Beach, the Florida Department of Health is advising people to stay out of the water completely until it clears.
A new bill championed by the nonprofit Calusa Waterkeeper introduced this week in the Florida Senate would close that gap in the nearly million acres of estuaries and 9,000 miles of streams and rivers the state has verified are polluted with fecal indicator bacteria.
State Senator Lori Berman and State Representative Yvonne Hayes Hinson recently filed SB 604 and HB 393, termed the “Safe Waterways Act.” The legislation will require county health departments to post and maintain warning signs at additional public bathing places that have been verified impaired for enterococci bacteria by the Florida Department of Health.
A state report shows trouble in Southwest Florida’s water. Scientists warn that areas of our water are polluted with nutrients and bacteria. While the findings are no surprise to those who sample and study our waterways, the unwanted attention could be a much-needed wake-up call.
What’s been long suspected now is official: Southwest Florida’s most cherished waters are in trouble. From Charlotte Harbor south to San Carlos Bay, a draft state report shows widespread pollution from the fertilizer nitrogen and the algae byproduct, chlorophyll. Many of them also contain unhealthy levels of fecal bacteria.
The current Florida Department of Health (FDOH) policy at the county level is inconsistent. The only waters routinely monitored are the coastal beaches. It’s rare when signage warning of fecal bacteria is implemented, often at the discretion of local politicians who have no training in public health.
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