Posted: Mar 01, 2018 3:16 PMUpdated: Mar 01, 2018 6:39 PM EST By Devin Turk, Reporter
NBC2 joined Florida Gulf Coast University professor Darren Rumbold's marine science class for a rare opportunity.
Researchers want to know if freshwater releases are ruining the marine ecosystem.
While many government groups test the inland waters, very few go offshore.
"There's very little testing going on this far out," said Rumbold.
Students were filling up test tubes, peering into microscopes, and sifting through the sand on the search for evidence of the effects of freshwater releases about 30 miles offshore.
"Not only is it environmentally important, it is economically important, and we need to determine to see if there is any impact from the huge discharges coming out of the river," said Rumbold.
That's where Rumbold's class comes in.
Students test for a variety of factors including sediment grain size.
"You can see the shells and then the darker pieces are the organic matter," said student Samantha Galindo.
Others found trash and plastics, which can have a chain reaction on the ecosystem.
"They think they're eating something, but it's not filling them up so they will eventually starve themselves to death by eating plastic," said Gage Wilson.
We went out 30 miles offshore.
The samples they collected will help them determine if those releases affect all the way out in the gulf.
They use a device to check oxygen levels at different depths and locations.
"This is from the top layer, and this is all the way from the bottom," said student Megan Miller.
Rumbold said oxygen is critical -- without the correct levels, he worries about a repeat of a situation in Collier County a few years back.
"There were eels and lobsters and sharks right in ankle deep water because they were trying to escape the low dissolved oxygen," said Rumbold.
Rumbold said while there is evidence freshwater releases have an effect on oxygen levels and blooms, their goal is to gather more evidence that would encourage more study.
"We know there is a problem offshore. We haven't been able to link it with the river. We haven't been able to link it with the discharges," said Rumbold.
Rumbold said it could take years of study to prove cause and effect, so they are still working on forming the data set.
Now they are trying to secure more grants and buy a buoy for constant water monitoring.