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New environmental report finds high levels of bacteria in SWFL beaches

Posted at 10:04 PM, Jul 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-25 13:20:08-04

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- A lot of people enjoy a little sand beneath their toes and some time with the waves at the beach. But according to a new 'Environment America,' study, more than half-of-beaches across the country tested positive for higher levels of fecal bacteria for at least a day last year. Some of those beaches right here in Southwest Florida

The 'Environment America,' study says of 263 sites sampled in 2018, 180 were potentially unsafe for at least one day. Here in Southwest Florida, some areas had between 15 to 30 percent of potentially unsafe beach days.

"We’ve known for a while that bacteria contamination in the water was a big problem," said James Douglass, associate professor in The Water School at Florida Gulf Coast University. Douglass explains fecal matter is what many researchers are finding in our area beaches. "We’re way behind in dealing with this important environmental issue."

Douglass, says fecal matter that’s tested in the water can be associated with some seriously dangerous bacteria. He explains, there could be high levels of viruses that can cause diarrhea, flesh-eating bacteria, and serious infections like MRSA.

"The fecal bacteria is just an indicator of what’s in the water. We test for the fecal bacteria but what’s really scary is the other germs in the water that we don’t test for,"

Douglass says the most notable areas that can often test high for fecal matter is right in our backyards.

"Some of the tributaries of the Caloosahatchee River, like Billy’s Creek in Fort Myers, is infamous for having extremely high levels of fecal bacteria," Douglass said.

He suggests upgrading sewage plants, fixing septic tanks and run off’s will be a start to fix the issue. Douglass says many times there is a sewage plant that’s in need of an upgrade to keep human waste out of the water, other times it’s failing septic tanks and other times its runoffs that aren't being filtered correctly as it flows across the land.

"It’s important that we be able to identify the source of the fecal bacteria so we can implement the right solutions," Douglass said.