Team of volunteers help scientists track water quality in the St. Lucie Estuary

HOBE SOUND-- Scientists are keeping a close eye on the water quality in the St. Lucie Estuary as releases from Lake Okeechobee and area canals continue. But scientists are also getting some extra help from a team of local volunteers with some spare time, and a lot of passion to see clean waterways.

15-year-old Shelby Pelkey is the youngest of the nearly 25 volunteers. She heads out to her neighbor's dock once a week to test the water quality near her Hobe Sound home.

She checks out salinity, Dissolve Oxygen, and other factors to determine the health of the estuary.

This is her second summer testing the water. In one year, she has seen a drastic change.

"We went from pretty much all green to no green at all," said Pelkey. A water quality map shows red areas where water quality is dangerous and destructive.

"If they don't realize it's getting worse, someone needs to show them it's getting worse," said Pelkey.

That's exactly what she hopes to do by collecting data. She says she used to see manatees and dolphins near her home. "It used to be you'd get 10 snappers in 2 hours. Now you have to wait a whole day and you barely get any fish," Pelkey said.

Vincent Encomio with the Florida Oceanographic Society says volunteers like Pelkey are the key to raising awareness of the issues concerning the estuary.

"They are kind of our eyes and ears on the estuary, so when something is wrong they're kind of the first people that I turn to," said Encomio.

Volunteers show it doesn't take a scientist to see the changes taking place.

"I want the water to be regular again so we can come out and enjoy it as much as we used to," said Pelkey.

Volunteers test the same site weekly. The results are published weekly by TC Palm.
 

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