Published: Feb 03, 2011 7:47 PM EST
Updated: Feb 03, 2011 4:52 PM EST

NAPLES– The Conservancy of Southwest Florida today released its 2011 Estuaries Report Card. Of the ten estuaries studied, ranging from Venice in the north to Everglades City in the south, not a single one fully met state water quality standards.
 
The 2011 Estuaries Report Card is an assessment of the current conditions of ten regional estuaries from Coastal Venice to the Ten Thousand Islands and makes recommendations on the ten steps to help save Southwest Florida’s waters. As part of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida mission to protect our water, land and wildlife, the Conservancy issues the Estuaries Report Card every five years to monitor the condition of our water quality.
 
Conservancy staff utilized research and scientific data to analyze ten specific watersheds in Southwest Florida including Coastal Venice, Lemon Bay, Charlotte Harbor, Pine Island Sound, Caloosahatchee River, Estero Bay, Wiggins Pass/Cocohatchee, Naples Bay, Rookery Bay and Ten Thousand Islands.
 
“The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill raised global awareness of the significance of estuaries, where nearly 75 percent of the commercially and recreationally important species of fish and shellfish spend part of their lives,” says Conservancy President Andrew McElwaine. “From tourism, to job creation and recreation, water is vital to the Florida economy, particularly in Southwest Florida. Yet 97 percent of bays and estuaries and 42 percent of streams in Florida are in poor shape, identified as potentially not safe for swimming and/or fishing.”
 
According to the report, each estuary, including those that are protected by conservation lands, has portions, if not all of its watersheds, which do not meet state water quality standards. Each of the ten watersheds was assigned two grades, one based on wildlife habitat and one on water quality. Of the 20 scores, only two received “A” grades, and nine received “D” grades.
   
“The report is important to policymakers, who can use the data to make important decisions concerning Southwest Florida waterways, as well as for citizens, who can make a difference in their own backyards,” says Jennifer Hecker, Conservancy Director of Natural Resources. “The findings also reinforce the need to establish quantifiable numeric nutrient standards for our waterways – the first step toward correctly identifying and addressing the nutrient pollution fouling our waters.”
 
In November 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established final standards that set numeric limits on the amount of nutrient pollution allowed in Florida’s inland waters to reduce water pollution that causes harmful algae blooms – the thick, green muck that fouls clear water – these blooms produce toxins harmful to humans, animals and ecosystems across the state of Florida. The blooms are caused by nitrogen and phosphorus, called “nutrients,” in wastewater, urban stormwater runoff and excess fertilizer that flow into waterways.
 
“When it comes to water quality, Florida has a lot of homework to do.  These grades should be unacceptable to any citizen. The good news is that the report outlines ten action items for policy makers and citizens to implement that will improve water quality in our estuaries,” says McElwaine. “We must each do our part. Clean and abundant water is our most precious resource.”
 
The 2011 Estuaries Report Card five-page executive summary and the full 251-page report including the ten steps to save Southwest Florida’s waters can be viewed online at www.conservancy.org.
 
Financial support for the 2011 Estuaries Report Card was provided by John Ben Snow Foundation, The Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, The Banbury Fund and The Agua Fund. The recommendations listed therein are those of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and do not necessarily reflect the view of the report’s funders.