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 A Community Outreach Project: CALUSA WATERKEEPER tackles Water Quality and Public Health

 A Community Outreach Project: CALUSA WATERKEEPER tackles Water Quality and Public Health

by K.C. Schulberg, Executive Director / Calusa Waterkeeper

What is going on with our water, and what is the potential risk to human health?

The summer of 2018 brought historic, unprecedented and catastrophic harm to the shores of South Florida, with outbreaks of both Red Tide and Blue Green Algae Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) that curtailed tourism, damaged our economy and caused massive fish kills and wildlife mortality. But, is it only our marine life that is being harmed by these HABs?

On February 19 of this year, Calusa Waterkeeper (CWK) received a SWFL Community Foundation Community Impact Grant, allowing us to dramatically ramp up our education and advocacy on the causes and impacts of HABs, with a specific focus on HAB Public Health threats & concerns. Since 2018, ground-breaking research – particularly on environmental toxicity & potential inhalation risks – sent flashing alarms that the health threats from HABs may be exponentially more dangerous than we surmised, lending increased urgency to communicating the most current data to a public starved for information.

To achieve the grant’s goals, we embarked on a three-fold strategy: First, to gather a team of experts from a diverse gamut of the medical and scientific community – from research Labs to emergency Rooms; second, to generate an interdisciplinary discussion among those experts to exchange state-of-the art data on HAB-related health threats; and third, to engage with healthcare providers to disseminate our findings to the medical community and to the public at large.

The Team of Experts we have assembled includes some of the nation’s top names studying this issue, like neurologist Dr. Walter Bradley; marine biologist Dr. Larry Brand; epidemiologist Adam Schaefer, research PHD Dr. James Metcalf; “Waterkeeper” John Cassani; neurologist Dr. David Davis; marine science professor Dr. Mike Parsons; neurologist Dr. Elijah Stommel; PHD clean water advocate Howard Simon; ER teaching professor Dr. Arthur Diskin; internal medicine practitioner Dr. Parisima Taeb; ENT- otolaryngologist Dr. Robert Zarranz, and RN Holley Rauen. Our first panel discussion with the Team took place on Friday, May 3 at the offices of the SWFL Community Foundation.

In the coming months, we will conduct additional roundtables and filmed interviews. We will produce an in-house 20-minute HAB Public Health documentary entitled “TROUBLED WATERS” with interviews of our Team, healthcare professionals and patients who have suffered distress. We will prepare a mass mailing about HABs to SWFL medical professionals and public health organizations. We will hold two HAB Public Health Town Halls – the first on June 24, with a screening of “Toxic Puzzle” and expert panel discussion – the second on August 5, with the world premiere of CWK’s Doc “TROUBLED WATERS” and expert panel discussion. In addition, we will develop in-service teaching workshops, offering continuing medical education credits for physicians and nurses in Lee County Hospitals.

We are immensely grateful to the SWFL Community Foundation for providing us with the resources to offer this all-important service to our community. The work product created through this Community Outreach Project, reinforced by concerted social media and public relations campaigns, will provide critical, topical and relevant news and calls to action to mitigate the extreme potential for risk these HABs may have on our community’s precious public health.

This summer, Florida Weekly has graciously allowed us, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, to spotlight the nonprofit organizations funded through the Foundation’s 2019 competitive grant cycle.  We have asked these grantees to share their stories. We are pleased to partner with these change-makers.

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $6.8 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of more than $126 million, it has provided $78.2 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. The Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are now located in the historic ACL Train Depot at Collaboratory in downtown Fort Myers, with a satellite office located in LaBelle (Hendry County). For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit

Southwest Florida Community Foundation
Southwest Florida Community Foundation

Our ambition is a more vibrant community that will continually address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties in Southwest Florida. We invite you to join our family and invest in the community with us!