Healing Charlotte Harbor using water testing

Reporter: Elizabeth Biro Writer: Matias Abril
Published: Updated:

Charlotte Harbor was once nationally renowned for its wildlife habitat, world class fishing, and aquatic recreation.

Today, the Peace and Myakka Rivers that feed into the watershed are classified impaired.

While the water may look nice and inviting today, it used to look much better.

“When I first came here, decades ago, it was classified as pristine,” said Dave Shutz, from Heal our Harbor. “Now it’s classified as impaired. The harbor is why we’re all here. The water is the lifeblood for all living things, we need to take care of it, we need to restore it.”

That mission to restore is what the non-profit organization Heal our Harbor was founded on.

Today, the team is doing its monthly testing.

After taking note of ambient conditions, weather, temperature, wind, they move to the water first, measuring its transparency.

“Today’s reading at 60 inches is actually encouraging,” said Bruce Wojcik, Heal our Harbor wildlife ecologist. “Ordinarily, we’re usually about 48 to 51 inches. So it means the waters a little bit clearer today. Not totally surprising, considering we haven’t been getting much rain.”

The Kemmerer water bottle is a scientific device that when it snaps shut, allows to obtain water at any given depth in the water column.

“We bring that water up, and then we start measuring for nutrients. We’ll measure for nitrogen and phosphorus,” Schutz said.

If those numbers are too high, the nutrients can fuel algae blooms and kill wildlife habitats like sea grass.

“We had great grass, we had great trout, we had great flounder, we had great redfish, and without that structure without that habitat, without that nursery, it diminished and we lost so much for seagrass,” said Dr. Richard Whitman, Heal our Harbor Director.

But Whitman says the most important test is for the oxygen level. It equated to 5.5 milligrams per liter. At that number, some fish are huffing and puffing. You go below 5, and it’s dangerous.

It’s better than what they saw after Hurricane Ian, when oxygen levels in Charlotte Harbor reached 1.

Things balanced back out and Heal our Harbor is here to monitor and inform. So, hopefully, one day this water will be healed and back to that pristine classification.

The group formed a year ago, and they’ve done monthly testing since then. The results will be available on our website as soon as they’re available.

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