Despite ongoing environmental and regulatory challenges, advocates for Southwest Florida’s water quality have good reason to breathe a sigh of relief. Thanks to the commitment of Lee County and the City of Sanibel and the generosity of a few concerned, longstanding donors, SCCF is proud to announce its RECON sensor network is being fully replaced and upgraded for the first time since its launch in 2007.
RECON – short for River, Estuary, and Coastal Observing Network – is a network of eight optical water quality sensors deployed throughout the Caloosahatchee and the Pine Island Sound estuary to provide real-time water quality data to scientists, policymakers, and the general public.
“RECON has been a real game-changer for our region,” said SCCF Environmental Policy Director James Evans. “Without its 24-7 data output on nutrients, dissolved oxygen, algae blooms, turbidity, and other indicators of our regional water quality, it would be impossible to advocate for science-based water management policies and regulations.”
When it first went online, the monitoring network was given an estimated life span of just seven years by the sensors’ manufacturer. Through a steadfast maintenance program and some creative fixes along the way, the SCCF Marine Lab was able to double that life expectancy to 14 years.
“We reached 2021 and the manufacturer told us they would no longer be making replacement parts,” said Marine Lab Director Eric Milbrandt, Ph.D. “We were looking at a $400,000 price tag to create a new sensor network monitoring water up the Caloosahatchee, through Pine Island Sound as far as North Captiva, and into the Gulf of Mexico as conditions warrant.”
Recognizing that RECON’s efficacy is held in high regard by our local elected officials, SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera’s first calls were to the City of Sanibel’s Mayor Holly Smith and Lee County Commission Chairman Kevin Ruane, who are pictured above with Evans.
“Their public sector support was swift and substantial,” according to Orgera. “Mayor Smith shepherded a request through the Sanibel City Council for a $50,000 grant, and Chairman Ruane secured $82,000 in support from Lee County. It’s tremendous validation that our elected officials want RECON to remain up and running.”
Former SCCF Board President Paul Roth and his wife Lucy were heartened to learn of the public sector’s financial support.
“It was important to us that our civic leaders knew private citizens also feel that RECON is essential for the ongoing monitoring and stewardship of our water quality,” said Lucy Roth in describing their decision to donate $125,000 to the replacement effort.
Their quiet philanthropy came to the attention of an anonymous donor as well as SCCF Board Vice President Deborah La Gorce. They respectively donated $100,000 and $41,000.
“My late husband John and I funded one of the original sensors in 2007 and it was important to our family to do it again,” said La Gorce. “The beauty of Sanibel and its surrounding waters have made this our family’s gathering place for three generations. It’s imperative that we protect it and I am forever grateful that the SCCF Marine Lab created a monitoring network to do just that. RECON truly is the lone guardian for our region when it comes to water quality monitoring.”