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Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserve - Water Quality

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Water quality monitoring plays a major role in the BBSAP's understanding of natural and human impacts on coastal waters. Researchers use water quality data to document short and long term changes within the water column in an effort to quantify the spatial and temporal variability and trends. These are applied both seasonally and as a function of tidal forcing, of the selected abiotic parameters (e.g. establish baseline data) within BBSAP. Water quality affects humans and other parts of the environment; accordingly, it is essential to develop a proficient water quality monitoring program to recognize and prevent potential negative impacts to BBSAP.

A healthy water body contains a balanced amount of nutrients with normal fluctuations in salinity and temperature. It also has plenty of oxygen, which is a basic requirement for nearly all aquatic biota, and little suspended sediment, so that living aquatic resources can breathe or receive enough sunlight to grow. Nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus, occur naturally in water, soil and air. Just as nutrient fertilizers are used to promote plant growth on lawns and farm fields, nutrients in the water encourage the growth of aquatic plants and algae. Although nutrients are essential to all plant life within BBSAP, an excess of these nutrients can be harmful. This is called nutrient pollution. The two general sources of adverse impacts on water quality are point and nonpoint source pollution. Point source pollution can be traced to a single identifiable source, such as a discharge pipe. Nonpoint source pollution comes from diffuse sources such as stormwater runoff that collects sediment, nutrients, bacteria, pesticides, fertilizers, animal or human waste, heavy metals, oil and grease. When these nutrient sources are not controlled, excess nutrients find their way into the groundwater, creeks, rivers, and eventually the Gulf of Mexico. Stormwater runoff is considered the primary water quality threat in most of the BBSAP watershed. It causes habitat degradation, fish kills and closure of shellfish beds and swimming areas.

BBSAP's current water quality monitoring project utilizes several methods to examine water column characteristics. Basic water quality parameters are monitored, and this data provides information to assess the condition of biological assemblages. To properly assess water quality conditions, long-term data sets are used to develop baseline data. While routine water quality monitoring detects effects of nutrient enrichment, it is not designed to detect trace levels of toxicants or contaminants. Biological assessments, coupled with habitat assessment, such as physical and chemical measurements, will aid in identifying probable causes of impairment not detected by physical and chemical water quality analyses alone, such as nonpoint source pollution and contamination, erosion, or poor land use practices. Current water quality trends throughout BBSAP indicate a slight increase in total nitrogen and phosphorous (supporting data is available upon request to BBSAP). Continued long-term water quality monitoring is therefore necessary and essential to protect the valuable natural resources in BBSAP.

BBSAP has two primary goals for protecting water quality:

Further develop and improve the strategic, long-term water quality monitoring program within BBSAP that will assist with identifying and addressing issues pertaining to the natural resources.

  • BBSAP staff work to analyze and interpret the status and trends of BBSAP’s water quality throughout the Big Bend to identify potential impacts to natural resources and provide quality scientific data and recommendations to address such issues. This is achieved through the use of dataloggers at priority locations which will collect continuous measurements, partnering with the University of Florida to collect water quality samples at specific sites. BBSAP is seeking additional dataloggers to expand the water quality monitoring efforts within BBSAP.
  • BBSAP is also working to identify specific and emerging water quality issues related to nutrients, pollution, and environmental, contaminants, and with coordination from other agencies, develop a response strategy to these issues.

  • Finally, BBSAP seeks to ensure the sustainability of scallop, fish, salt marsh, seagrass habitat, and other concerned species through the development of a tiered approach to water quality monitoring that integrates biological assessments and multiple tools to define a core set of baseline indicators to possibly explain causes and/or sources of any impairment within BBSAP.

Provide timely and accurate water quality data and information to the public and other entities/agencies.

  • BBSAP is working to make its water quality data available on Water-CAT, an online water resource monitoring catalog. Staff are also using a variety of methods to inform the public regarding water quality conditions, the importance of water quality, and how to improve it, such as educational signage, participating in public lectures or forums, and creating opportunities for the public to volunteer in water quality monitoring projects.

Last Modified:
February 24, 2023 - 3:15pm

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