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Water-quality researchers install donated equipment

By Staff | May 28, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED One of the new water-research stations being installed in the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge waters along Wildlife Drive.

As water research equipment that monitors the waters of the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge was about to become obsolete at the end of 2019, the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge stepped in to purchase new updated equipment, known as sondes.

The in-water stations measure various factors that help biologists determine the health of the water via logger systems. The new sondes connect to a 4G network and send data to a cloud-based application that refuge staff can access in real time.

“We then report that data each week to the Army Corp of Engineers and South Florida Water Management District in collaboration with the city of Sanibel, Lee County, SCCF (Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation) and Fort Myers Beach,” senior refuge biologist Jeremy Conrad said.

The sondes also provide collaborative data to the SCCF RECON network. RECON employs similar sondes to monitor real-time water quality in Tarpon Bay and throughout the San Carlos Pass and Caloosahatchee River.

In collaboration with the refuge, SCCF staff recently installed the first of the two sondes. The installation was delayed by the temporary pandemic closure of SCCF’s Marine Lab, which is located on refuge property at the Tarpon Bay Recreation Area. The second will be upgraded soon, researchers said. Besides deploying the equipment, SCCF staff also calibrate, maintain and monitor data.

“Water management from Lake O and the Caloosahatchee is the largest impact to the refuge, and it requires monitoring to better understand how lake releases impact water quality within the refuge boundaries,” Conrad said. “The sondes located in refuge waters measure water-quality parameters continuously via the logger system and transmit that data to a server that refuge and SCCF staff can monitor from work or home.”

“Clean water is the lifeblood of the refuge and the entire planet,” DDWS Executive Director Birgie Miller said. “There’s no overstating the importance of understanding how refuge waters are being affected by outside forces. The wildlife society did not hesitate to support the equipment for this crucial research as part of our mission to support refuge studies, wildlife, and education.”

“We are grateful to our friends group for this important show of support and for collaboration from other local organizations,” acting Refuge Manager Kevin Godsea said. “Partnerships such as this make possible great strides in the progression of water-quality research when staff and resources are otherwise limited.”