Originally published by The News-Press on December 23, 2022 by Chad Gillis

Hurricane Ian and a red tide bloom combined to create dangerous conditions in coastal waters in Lee and Collier counties this year, and some water quality experts say they still would avoid swimming at many local beaches.

With many questions remaining about Southwest Florida’s water quality, it can be difficult to decide whether or not to dip your toes into the Gulf of Mexico over the holidays and into the new year.

So we asked two water quality scientists with decades of experience in Southwest Florida if they would enter local waters, fish or paddle and where.

Q. Would you swim in the Gulf of Mexico right now?

A. “No,” said Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani. “I would not swim in the Gulf of Mexico at this time.”

Q. What exactly are you concerned about?

A. “The post Ian rainfall runoff and storm surge produced considerable loading of organic debris, sewage and other chemical contaminants such as petroleum products,” Cassani continued. “The heavy loading of organics continues to fuel extensive microbial growth including fecal bacteria and harmful algae, which can cause serious health risks.”

Q. What do you expect to see between now and the next hurricane season?

A. “I expect more of what has occurred over the past 22 years that has led to rampant statewide impairment of Florida’s waters,” Cassani said. “Lax regulatory enforcement on agriculture and urban growth and development has allowed the rate of impairment to accelerate.”

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