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DATA KIDS: Schools unite to test water quality

October 30, 2013
By BOB PETCHER ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Teenagers from Cape Coral visited pre-teens from Fort Myers Beach to collaborate on a water quality testing mission last week.

Students and instructors of Island Coast High School's Academy of Natural Resources bused down to Beach Elementary School where they met with school officials and fifth graders to plan their attack. Led by Joe Mallon, the academy's director, the two groups visited Bowditch Park, Bonita Bill's Waterfront Cafe and Lovers Key State Park to conduct water tests from samples in the Gulf and Back Bay. They then had lunch at Truly Scrumptious in Santini Marina Plaza, courtesy of plaza manager Al Durrett.

This is the first collaboration known between an elementary school and a high school in Beach Elementary Principal Larry Wood's 42 years in the profession. He stated he would like students to visit the high school program in Cape Coral and possibly host the group once more in the spring for a similar event.

Article Photos

Students from Beach Elementary and Island Coast High School's Academy of Natural Resources, pictured with officials from both schools at Bonita Bill's Waterfront Cafe, combined forces to test water quality at three locations last week.

"You are going to set the bar for all other times we may meet again," Wood said to the students. "Your enthusiasm, involvement and ability to get along with each other is going to determine whether we do this again or not. We feel really good about this."

Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker and Beach Councilwoman Jo List spoke to the two groups before their field trip. Test results from the tests are expected to be presented before Council at a future meeting.

"The people in the Town here are very, very concerned about the water. To have you together like this and do such an important thing is really meaningful," said List.

Fact Box


--Turbidity clarity of water. Secchi discs or turbidity tubes were used to determine how clear the water sample was. For example: process includes filling up turbidity tube and slowly releasing water from it through a valve until you see a miniature secchi disc within tube. When that occurs, record the level by reading the measurement.

--Phosphate a nutrient that gets into the water and contributes to algal blooms; comes from agricultural fertilizers, manure, and organic wastes in sewage and industrial flows; measured with a photometer.

--ph "power of hydrogen" is the measurement of acidity (fresh water has average ph of 7; salt water has average ph of 8.5); a simple ph tester is used to measure.

--Nitrate another nutrient that gets into the water and contributes to algal blooms; excess nitrates can usually be traced to agricultural activities, human wastes, or industrial pollution and contaminate water.

--Temperature the measurement of water temperature is the most common physical assessment of water quality; temperature impacts both the chemical and biological characteristics of surface water and affects the dissolved oxygen level in the water.

--Salinity level of salt water within a body of water. Salinity meters such as a refractometer or a hydrometer may be used.

--Dissolved oxygen the amount of oxygen present in water; measured in milligrams per liter; tested to see if it affects the way sea life breathes; if dissolved oxygen levels decrease, it becomes harder for animals to get the oxygen they need to survive.

Kiker used to be a fishing charter captain before his political days and, since he has scuba-dived, has a familiarity with the depths of the water and water quality. He informed the students that he testified in Washington D.C. about water quality and high flow regulatory freshwater releases discharged from Lake Okeechobee.

"I saw the reefs that used to have a lot of color, but they've turned brown. They die out there. There are some awful things that are happening," he said. "It's really important that all of the things you do today (will help determine) what it is going to do to us tomorrow and in the future."

Kiker relayed a past occurrence with red drift algae washing up on the shoreline of the Beach.

"Red drift algae is when too many nutrients or a bad balance of them come out of the water and actually make the (algae) grow faster than they are supposed to. If the conditions are wrong, it all washes up on the beach. This is all because of the nutrients that come down Lake O."

Kiker encouraged the students to come up with good results.

"I promise you we are going to send the results and a picture of you to Washington D.C.," he said.

Four testing teams involved the combined forces of four Beach students and two Island Coast students collecting eight different water parameters to determine what is right or wrong with each water source. Each team gathered water samples and checked temperature, turbidity, phosphate levels, ph levels, nitrate levels, salinity and dissolved oxygen. The results were recorded on data sheets.

"With all these different parameters, we'll be able to get a really good idea of what is really happening with the releases of Lake Okeechobee," said Mallon.

Island Coast will review test results at their laboratory and share the data with the elementary students in the future.



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