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Charlotte Harbor Estuaries Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Network

The Charlotte Harbor Estuaries Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Network is a coordinated system of over 100 volunteers who regularly conduct water quality monitoring throughout the six local Aquatic Preserves in southwest Florida. The Monitoring Network ranges from Lemon Bay, Gasparilla Sound, Charlotte Harbor, Pine Island Sound, Matlacha Pass, San Carlos Bay and Estero Bay estuaries.

The project is a cooperative effort of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Charlotte Harbor & Estero Bay Aquatic Preserves Offices, the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center, the Southwest Florida Water Management District's Surface Water Improvement Management Program, and the CHNEP.

The program is unique because it:

  • Includes monitoring sites in all 6 of the aquatic preserves in the Charlotte Harbor estuaries.
  • Builds on & expands existing volunteer monitoring programs.
  • Provides both scientific & educational functions.
  • Includes critical quality assurance, data management and training components necessary for providing credible data and long term volunteer support.


Volunteers are THE critical component to the success of the monitoring program. Educating the volunteers and the general public about the values of estuaries through monitoring will lead to active, self-supporting Citizens Support Organizations for each of the Aquatic Preserves and the CHNEP. The volunteer monitoring program was initiated in October 1996 and now 106 volunteers monitor 46 locations within the estuaries.

Once a month volunteers sample 14 field parameters which include:

dissolved oxygen (D.O.) water temperature wind speed & direction
pH air temperature precipitation
salinity water clarity weather & water surface conditions
water color water depth tide stage

In addition to the 14 parameters measured in the field, samples for six additional parameters are collected by volunteers, and analyzed at the DEP Central Laboratory in Tallahassee. These parameters include fecal coliform bacteria, chlorophyll a, turbidity, color, total nitrogen and total phosphorus parameters.

Water quality monitoring equipment

Volunteers receive initial classroom training on the importance of estuarine environments and the need for their monitoring results. They learn how the estuaries change according to location and throughout the year. They also receive classroom training on the tested parameters and the techniques used.

After the initial classroom training, volunteers are trained in the field. To assure quality data all trained volunteers attend quality assurance practice sessions as a group twice a year.

Every month volunteers record the data onto data sheets. The data is then entered into a database and transformed into graphs and tables. Graphs and tables give an understandable picture of the water quality of the sites over time. All of the data is uploaded into a federal database which is made available to scientists, state and local government agencies, policy makers, and citizen's organizations.

Data from this project has determined base level conditions throughout the estuary where little data previously existed. The data is available for uses in resource management, which includes activities such as permitting, recreational decisions, watershed land use and infrastructure decisions, determining permit compliance as well as determining future monitoring needs. In conjunction with other water and resource monitoring project designs, there is a better understanding of estuarine conditions in the local Aquatic Preserves.

The Charlotte Harbor Estuaries Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Network is always looking for volunteers. Please contact Melynda Brown at the DEP Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves office in Punta Gorda if interested. Melynda's telephone number is (941) 575-5861 or she may be reached by email at Melynda.A.Brown@dep.state.fl.us


Last updated: August 03, 2017

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