Originally published by The News-Press on August 8, 2022 by Amy Bennett Williams

If you want to swim in poop-, red tide- or cyanobacteria-contaminated waters, Florida’s health department isn’t going to stop you – in Lee County, at least.

When enteric bacteria levels were high at Bonita Beach last month, people went right on splashing around in the warm Gulf.

Found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, enteric bacteria signal fecal contamination. Best known for gastrointestinal woes, they also can also cause upper respiratory illness, fever, eye infection, rashes, earaches and infected cuts, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The health department issued press releases and online warnings, hung posters and sunk signs into the sand, but it didn’t keep anyone off the beach or out of the water.

Why aren’t public health officials making public health decisions, wonders Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani. “How is it that ‘beach managers’ have an arbitrary authority to close a beach but not the Florida Department of Health? … I have yet to see a rule or statute that says FDOH does not have the authority to close a beach,” he said. “Actually (statute) says FDOH can enforce advisories.

“I interpret that to mean closing a beach.”

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