Aerial images give researchers closer look at SWFL water quality

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
An aerial image of Lighthouse Beach on Sanibel Island Aug. 13, 2021. Credit: Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

Just as our water ebbs and flows, our water quality does too. Aerial photographers were able to capture how much our water can change in a matter of days and weeks. We looked at how that’s turning the tide on tracking the health and look of our water.

“A picture’s worth a thousand words,” said Leah Reidenbach, a research and policy associate at Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. “We just wanted people to know, before they started the weekend, what the past week had looked like in water quality.”

With her drone in hand, Reidenbach captured aerial photos above Lighthouse Beach on Sanibel Island and paired the photos with the day, time, tide and average flows out of W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam.

“Throughout the month, we’ve actually had a really wide variety of conditions because of rainfall,” Reidenbach said.

This variety of conditions spanned the entire summer.

Reidenbach says we’ve been lucky by not receiving any releases directly from Lake Okeechobee this summer.

“Those are actually filled with a lot of nutrients, so even though the water is brown right now, it’s not as loaded with nutrients as it might be if they were doing Lake Okeechobee releases,” Reidenbach explained.

That means the dark color is organic material from the landscape entering our waterways.

“It’s actually pretty much a natural occurrence, but it can be made worse by development,” Reidenbach said “So instead of having that natural filtration system of mangroves and grass, the water runs off into our system really quickly.”

SCCF’s goal in the future is to take aerial images of the Caloosahatchee River. The organization hopes to show what the river looks like when it’s healthy as well as capture any blue-green algae blooms.

MORE: Aerial images taken by Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation

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