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SCCF’s Milbrandt discusses water quality at Greater Pine Island Civic Association meeting

By Staff | Oct 11, 2019

At the Greater Pine Island Civic Association’s October meeting last week, Dr. Eric Milbrandt of the marine laboratory at the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation offered a presentation about the work SCCF is doing to improve the local water quality.

Milbrandt was named SCCF Marine Laboratory Director in 2011 and was instrumental in the establishment of RECON (River Estuary Coastal Observing Network). RECON provides real-time information of numerous water quality studies around Sanibel and Captiva Islands.

“We are set up to look at climate and water management related disturbances,” Milbrandt said. “All of our studies are focused on those topics. One of the other things we’ve been doing is restoration projects.”

SCCF runs a “real-time” observation network with in-water instrumentation at seven sites from the Caloosahatchee River into Pine Island Sound that measures numerous water parameters and weather hourly.

“Most of our points of interest are around Shell Point and San Carlos Bay,” Milbrandt said. “San Carlos Bay is a receiving water body for a lot of the water that comes out of the Caloosahatchee and that’s where a lot of our critical habitat is: sea grasses, oysteries and things that can’t get out of the way. We measure the effects using real time data to see events as they occur.”

Every week SCCF provides real-time condition reports to the Army Corp of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District.

“Those are the two federal and state agencies that are in charge of water management and the Caloosahatchee,” Milbrandt said.

“We’ve lost 90% of our oyster reefs mostly due to road construction but also due to poor water management,” Milbrandt said. “I could show you so much data of how well our restoration projects work. Our projects create habitat, fish are attracted to them, they filter the water because you have a thousand oysters per square meter and we do it on a large scale with contractors.”

Red tide has affected Southwest Florida for 57 of the 62 years it has been monitored. According to Milbrandt it is often a “background” kind of event.

“There have been five times in those 62 years where the red tide lasted more than a year and last year was one of those years,” Milbrandt said. “It had wide spread impact on fish. The previous long-term red tide before that was in 2005 and the one before that was in 1998.

“The thing that causes red tide is a complicated little cell,” Milbrandt said. “It very flexible in what it eats and what it does. It can act like a plant, it can feed on bacteria and it can swim. One of the things that we think we know is that the blooms start in the off-shore waters deeper than 100 feet. They are transported towards the coast, they intensify, and we don’t know why they intensify.”

The SCCF is also invested in restoring the seagrass also known as tapegrass. In 1998 tapegrass covered more than 700 acres in the Caloosahatchee River near Fort Myers. Today there are only a few patches left. The SCCF is attempting to replenish tapegrass.

Tapegrass was planted upstream in the Caloosahatchee near the U.S. 41 bridges. “Founder” colonies of tapegrass were established at six sites along the shorelines and protected from grazing with herbivore exclusion cages.

Milbrandt encourages everyone to sign up for the SCCF newsletter and Action Alerts. Action Alerts will keep you informed about programs SCCF is working on and provides update from the State Legislature.

The SCCF is at 3333 Sanibel-Captiva Road, Sanibel, FL 33957. Hours are Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. For information, call 239-472-2329 or visit pmwww.sccf.org