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‘River Meets the Sea’ maiden voyage gives passengers estuarine insight

By Staff | Sep 8, 2010

Captain Jorge Salazar shows passenger Geri Campbell real-time data from the RECON unit on his phone.

The Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, in partnership with Captiva Cruises, conducted the first of many water quality-based boat tours last Friday, in an effort to give passengers a greater understanding of how the Caloosahatchee watershed and the estuaries surrounding Sanibel and Captiva are affected by the greater Everglades system and harmful releases from Lake Okeechobee.

The cruise, aptly titled “River Meets the Sea,” is co-hosted by SCCF

Education Director Kristie Anders, who provides a detailed history of the area — from the arrival of Hamilton Disston to the latest in water quality monitoring technology — as the Santiva, Captiva Cruises’ newest boat, takes passengers on a two hour tour of the sensitive area where the Caloosahatchee meets the Gulf of Mexico.

In addition to an informative outdoor lecture, Anders gave participants an in-depth description of one of SCCF Marine Laboratory’s sophisticated River, Estuary and Coastal Observing Network (RECON) units, located near Shell Point.

“This $85,000 piece of equipment sends data back to the marine lab on an hourly basis, and the results are real-time, so anyone in the world can access this data,” Anders said.

Left to right the members of the maiden voyage of the “River Meets the Sea” cruise: Harry Kotses, Kandee Grossman, Harris Gilbert, Captiva Cruises Captain Jorge Salazar, Ann Moeder, Barbara McClure, Randon Eddy, Captiva Cruises Environmental Educator Richard Finkel, SCCF Education Director Kristie Anders, Dan Moeder, Paul Duval, and Geri Campbell.

The RECON units test for several characteristics that determine water

quality, including salinity, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, temperature and nitrogen levels.

Good water quality isn’t just necessary to keeping the beaches open, Anders said, it’s essential for many marine populations that live, migrate through and graze in the critical area where the river meets the sea.

Manatee rely on seagrasses that grow in the area, but seagrasses have suffered greatly due to poor light filtration caused by nutrient-loading.

This area, in addition to Charlotte Harbor, is the only habitat that another endangered species, the small-toothed sawfish, has left. Destroying what’s left of the area could decimate the already infinitesimal population.

The Shell Point Village RECON unit marker.

As the tour progressed, Anders’ co-host, Richard Finkel, Environmental Educator for Captiva Cruises, gave passengers the opportunity to do some hands-on water quality testing of their own, using basic instruments such as a hydrolab and a refractometer to measure for the elements that the RECON units can automatically test for – and submit to the lab — within seconds.

“You can see how much more valuable it is to have a unit in the water that reports back to a website on an hourly basis. This is why these RECON units are so important,” Finkel said. “This is what I like to do — showing people what the marine biologists are doing on a daily, in some cases hourly, basis.”

The cruise is just as much about history and science as it is about promoting community advocacy and conservation.

As the Santiva returned to the Sanibel Harbour dock, Finkel asked passengers to look around at the many wooded keys dotting the bay.

“We really want to get across the timelessness of these areas. You’re seeing something very similar to what the Calusa saw. We have to conserve these areas,” he said.

Captiva Cruises Environmental Educator Richard Finkel shows passenger Harry Kotses how to read the hydrolab data.

Passenger Geri Campbell agrees.

“I came on this cruise because I wanted to learn more about the quality of the water at this point in time. If the State and the Army Corps don’t get these releases under control, it could destroy our estuaries and our islands,” said Campbell, who developed an intense interest in water quality soon after Hurricane Charley. “I’m encouraged because there are people that are really trying to monitor it. They’re looking out for our quality of life in the Southwest Florida area. It’s such an important part of our life down here, our estuaries, our plant life and wildlife.”

When the Santiva docked, Anders and Finkel thanked everyone for joining them on the maiden voyage of “River Meets the Sea.”

“We’ll be doing these monthly,” Finkel said, “so spread the word!”

Proceeds from the water quality, dolphin and wildlife cruises, all available through Captiva Cruises, benefit the environmental education fund at the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation.

SCCF Education Director Kristie Anders shows passengers a diagram of the RECON unit.

Tickets are $35 for adults and $20 for children.

To reserve a spot for the Oct. 15 “River Meets the Sea” cruise, which begins at 10 a.m., call Captiva Cruises, 472-5300.