Dirty and Dangerous: High levels of bacteria linked to sewage found in Biscayne Bay

(WSVN) - This has been a horrible year for Florida waters with red tide, blue-green algae and bacteria. Some of South Florida’s most popular waterways are just now being tested — and the results are not good. 7’s Brian Entin has our special report “Dirty and Dangerous.”

The inviting blue water of Biscayne Bay is popular with boaters, paddleboarders and swimmers.

Brian Entin: “What’s it like to work out here every day?”

Faye Stratford, kayaker: “It’s paradise.”

But paradise is being compromised deep in the water. Scientists have found a bacteria associated with sewage.

Faye Stratford: “I actually was unaware that fecal matter is one of the sources. Lovely.”

Brian Entin: “Kind of gross, huh?”

Faye Stratford: “Yeah, it makes you want to get in the water. (laughs)”

Faye Stratford makes a living giving kayak tours of the bay.

She loves working on the water, but is disgusted by the bacteria discovery. And no one even knew it was there, because the Florida Department of Health only tests these beaches for bacteria.

Biscayne Bay has not been regularly tested … until now.

Dr. Rachel Silverstein, Miami Waterkeeper: “There are a lot of places around Biscayne Bay that people are swimming, boating, kayaking, sailing that are not being tested for sewage bacteria.”

Dr. Rachel Silverstein is with the nonprofit Miami Waterkeeper. She has a grant to test parts of the bay, as well as the Miami River, a waterway that feeds directly into Biscayne Bay.

She takes the samples back to Ransom Everglades High School for testing. The school provides her with lab space.

A black light reveals this sample has a dangerous bacteria called enterococcus, which can cause fever, nausea and vomiting.

Dr. Rachel Silverstein: “This glow is a very bad thing. It means that we have high bacteria levels in our waterways.”

The Miami River was exceptionally high, more than double the allowable limit. Areas near Morningside Park and Coconut Grove also had high levels of bacteria associated with fecal matter.

The bacteria comes from septic tanks, sewage leaks and even dog feces.

It ends up in storm drains and comes out of pipes like the one at Coconut Grove’s Seminole Boat Ramp.

Dr. Rachel Silverstein: “It’s devastating to see the beautiful bodies of water that we have built our city around contaminated and polluted.”

The good news? The water quality is temporarily improving because the rainy season is ending — and there is less runoff.

Dr. Silverstein says she’ll continue testing six locations in the bay every week, so swimmers will know whether the water is safe.

Faye Stratford: “The whole bay is connected. It’s all interconnected. Just taking care of it on the beach doesn’t make any sense. They have to take care of it all over.”

You can keep track of the bacteria levels through an app called Swim Guide. All of the Waterkeeper and health department tests are there and available for you to check before you head out on the water.


Miami Waterkeeper

Swim Guide

Florida Healthy Beaches Program

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