ENGLEWOOD — Lil Dixon of Englewood has traveled to beaches all over the United States and believes the local beaches are the best.
“I think our beaches here are cleaner,” Dixon said. “The water’s warmer. I think they’re a lot better here.”
Florida Healthy Beaches program, made possible by the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act, allows weekly testing of beach conditions to measure enterococcus bacteria levels for environmental safety. Funding for the BEACH Act is courtesy of an annual grant provided by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We have two basic kinds of samples we test for: bacteria and red tide,” said Kent Macci, environmental supervisor with the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County. “We do them every Monday except for extreme weather anomalies. We know red tide is tied to extreme runoff from chemicals. We’re trying to figure ways to minimize our impact on our contribution to red tide. As far as I know, we play a role. The more nutrients we put out there, the more we contribute. We know how to minimize our impact.”
Macci said the way for people to contribute is to be mindful and manage their own micro environment.
“We’re trying to go further away from septic systems,” he said. “More products have fewer nutrients to stimulate red tide. We’re educating the public more about chemicals, nutrients and how they impact red tide.”
Over 65,000 samples have been collected from over 300 beaches across the state since July 2000 according to Bart Bibler, chief bureau of water programs at the DoH.
Testers take an initial sample to measure the level of enterococcus bacteria and issue a rating.
“The Enterococcus Geometric Mean is the scale over time used by the EPA,” Macci said. “We sample over two days. You go back a third day and it may not be as high so mean takes average. We grab a sample then the scientist pours an enzyme; then, 24 hours later, the colonies illuminate.”
The ratings are: good, where the beach contains 0-35 enterococci per 100 milliliters of marine water; moderate, 36-104 enterococci per 100 milliliters of water; and poor, 105 or greater enterococci per 100 milliliters of marine water.
“If it doesn’t meet level, we test the sample,” said Karl Henry, environmental administrator with the Charlotte County Health Department. “If it comes back the same result, we issue an advisory. It should be no more than 104 enterococci.”
Charlotte and Sarasota county beaches have rated “good” consistently over the course of the year, according to Macci and Henry. A few beaches have dipped to “moderate” and “poor” before returning to “good” the following week.
“Animals, runoff, nutrients can contribute to levels,” Henry said. “It’s mainly from animal waste like those from birds that contribute to bacteria levels.” Henry said they follow up to make sure septic systems are in good working condition.
“We respond to complaints in a timely manner,” Henry said. “I think that beaches are healthy for the most part.”
Macci said it’s a process that always is improving and refining.
“It’s a collaborative effort,” Macci said. “The government as well as the public, we all play a role.”
For more information, visit http://www.myfloridaeh.com/beach_sampling/dpCounty_Beaches_ MashUp7.html.