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LEE COUNTY l High levels of fecal bacteria found at two beaches

Posted at 5:33 PM, Sep 29, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-29 18:46:39-04

FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. — Typically, a day at the beach may include laying on the sand, getting a tan or maybe swimming in the ocean. On Friday at Bowditch Point, that was not the case due to high levels of bacteria in the water.

“There are bacteria in the environment,” said Dr. Don Duke, with Florida Gulf Coast University's (FGCU) Water School. “The kind of things we are looking for, we call fecal bacteria. So, that is maybe a little off putting.”

Fecal bacteria, otherwise known as Enterococcus bacteria, was found in high levels on Thursday at the Cape Coral Yacht Club and Bowditch Point Park on the northern end of Estero Island. The Lee County Department of Health (DOH) detected it in their normal monthly testing.

At the Cape Coral Yacht Club, you shouldn’t be swimming anyway as the beach is still closed since Hurricane Ian.

As for Bowditch Point, the beach reopened in mid-August. Now, DOH is advising people to not wade or swim in these waters due to the risk of gastroenteritis issues like upset stomach and diarrhea.

“This is the first way that we might get an indication that might be possible,” said Dr. Duke. “So, when it exceeds that target limit, what that means is, the next thing they do is monitor routinely and see if it stays above that target limit. If so, then that means that they should go look and see and verify that there is no human source.”

Despite high levels of bacteria, Bowditch Point Park remains open, and those advisories didn’t stop a few people from going for a swim. But one couple on holiday from Scotland, wasn’t take any chances.

“It was the first time we have seen anything saying keep out the water in 30 years,” said George Walker.

Walker and his wife were also at Bowditch on Thursday when the signs were put out by DOH.

“I was surprised they didn’t inform all the people that were already in the sea, swimming,” said Walker. “They just put the signs out and disappeared.”

Luckily, Dr. Duke says these type events are typically short-lived and very localized. He also adds that these types of tests are not sensitive enough to know if the bacteria are from humans or not.

“Everything from microbes to manatees defalcates in the waters. If you want to be in natural waters, you are going to swim with that stuff. If you don’t want to, there is your swimming pool.”

Department of Health will be back out here next Tuesday, when they will take another sample to see if those bacteria levels have come down. If they come back down, then it will be safe to return to normal activities.