Sanibel Sea School Oil Monitoring Project

In response to the BP oil spill, Sanibel Sea School has acquired a Turner Designs fluorometer with oil monitoring capabilities.  We will begin monitoring for the presence of oil in Lee County waters in early June 2010.

Sanibel Sea School’s fluorometer can detect oil quantities as low as one part per million in seawater. It is more compact and highly mobile than comparable equipment in Lee County, so it provides the advantage of monitoring oil from aboard boats as well as from shore. The fluorometer can also be used to map phytoplankton blooms, which will allow scientists at partner institutions to assess the correlation between oil contamination and phytoplankton blooms.

We are interested in two components of oil monitoring – we want to help understand the impacts of oil contamination in our marine environments, and we want to keep Lee County residents safe.

Sanibel Sea School will ensure the safety of summer camp participants by sampling local waters regularly. We will be able to determine with fine precision whether the water we are engaging in has oil contamination. The fluorometer will allow us to ensure that our clients are not exposed to oil.

Check this page frequently for updated information regarding the presence of oil in Lee and Collier county waters.

18 July 2010

Again, thwarted by strong easterly winds and big seas.  We were able to sample along shore of Sanibel Island and west of Marco Island.  In all sites sampled, we found no oil-related hydrocrabons.

17 July 2010

Rough seas prevented us from sampling today.  We will try again tomorrow.

4 July 2010

There was no oil present in the waters of Lee and Collier Counties where we sampled today.  Rough seas and strong thunderstorms, but no oil.


Strong thunderstorms prevented our sampling today.


The Gulf of Mexico is warm (31 degrees C), clear and oil free offshore from Naples and Sanibel and Captiva Islands today.


We sampled from Naples to Captiva today and found the Gulf of Mexico to be beautiful, very clear with more than 30 feet of visibility and no oil.  The Gulf is spectacular.  If all days in the field could be this good.  In the three weeks we have been sampling, we have found no oil, nor any harmful algal blooms.

Afternoon clouds mounting on the blue waters Gulf of Mexico.


We sampled about 5 nautical miles south of the Sanibel Lighthouse today.  No oil was found at any depth.  The ocean is beautiful and pristine.


We sampled the waters offshore from Sanibel and Naples today.  Happily, there is no oil in our waters right now.  The Gulf of Mexico is just fine and beautiful today.  Many large schools of flying fish, but no dolphins today.

The water temperature is 86 degrees F, or 30 degrees C.  Such a drastic change from our frigid winter.

It was a good day for offshore swimming to cool off from the toils of plankton tows, fluorometry and water sampling. There is something thrilling about jumping into the clear, pristine ocean with nothing on the horizon.  Who said science is always serious stuff?

The oil prospecting crew takes a cool break in the clear waters 15 nautical miles offshore from Sanibel Island. No land in sight.

We are finding it difficult to obtain a sample of crude oil from the blowout.  We need an oceanic sample of the oil to calibrate our fluorometer for more accurate measurements.  Kind of ironic that we cannot easily get our hands on a liter of oil that is spewing into the Gulf of Mexico at a rate that must be measured in tens of thousands of barrels.


At 06:45 we were able to get out and collect phytoplankton samples and measure for oil.  The phytoplankton samples will ship off to the Florida Wildlife Research Institute for analysis tomorrow.  We traveled for more than 50 nautical miles and collected samples at stations along the way.

There was no oil and the Gulf of Mexico was beautiful, blue and teeming with life.  Dolphins everywhere, sea turtles, flying fish and many schools of mackerel.  Just like it ought to be.  We will post the data and coordinates, but we are still working on a map interface.


This afternoon we will head offshore for a preliminary sampling of oil and phytoplankton.  We will post these data, but it is only available in a numerical format.  In a short time, we should have the interactive map portal functioning.


Thwarted by big waves from a strong SW wind.  The fastest headway we cold make was 5 knots.  At that speed, it would take 3 hours to get out to the sampling stations.  We will go again early on Sunday morning before the winds pick up heavily.


We have conducted our first sampling of oil and phytoplankton today.  We did not find oil. We are in the process of creating an interactive map-based data portal that results of the phytoplankton and oil monitoring will be posted on.  Please continue to check back for this tool.


  1. I will check this daily.
    The phytoplankton bloom monitoring is most important.

  2. We plan to be down there on June 12 and would like continuing info re status of oil slick.


  3. 6/5 report
    No oil, & the Gulf was beautiful, dolphins, turtles, and shoals of mackerel. Over 50 nautical miles!!

  4. I am hoping that this site can give real, honest information to those of us with travel plans for Captiva and Sanibel. We have a pregnant woman in our party and just can’t subject her to any oil or smell. As much as we love our trips to these islands, we are very worried about what conditions will be like in mid-July. Thank you for continuing to give us information!

    • Beth,

      Thank you for reading our blog.

      Yes indeed you can rely on us for real, honest information. We are dedicated to describing ocean parameters with as much accuracy as is possible.

      Hopefully information will help you make good decisions about your travel and about how you react to environmental issues.

      Have a great Day.

  5. Thank you so much for testing the water and for posting this information. We are visiting Sanibel next week with our two young children and we will be monitoring your site for reliable information regarding any potential threat from the oil spill.
    I was wondering… they have sprayed over 1 million gallons of chemical dispersant since the oil spill began. Do you test for evidence of these chemicals in the gulf also?
    I’m hesitant about letting my children swim in the water because I don’t know how quickly (or slowly) that dispersant itself disperses in the water. I understand that they are using it closer to Louisiana, but in over 60 days, wouldn’t it make sense that the dispersant would have spread throughout the gulf at this point?
    I’m not a scientist and I cannot find any information on this issue…any insight you have regarding this risk would be GREATLY appreciated!!
    Thank you again!!!

    • Kelly,

      I believe that the waters are extremely safe at this time.

      The use of dispersants is indeed a challenge – for the environment and for those of us who swim in the ocean. There is indeed little information about the chemistry and health threats of chemical dispersants. Our probes do not quantify dispersants. However, the volume of dispersants and the volume of the Gulf of Mexico are so vastly different. I honestly believe that the greatest risks of dispersants is fairly localized. We will continue to try to find information and post it here.

      But, again I truly believe the waters of Lee County are very safe at this time. Please come and enjoy our warm waters and please drop by Sanibel Sea School and see us if you have a chance.


  6. Thank you so much for your response and for keeping people safe. Many visitors will undoubtedly be looking to your site for reliable, accurate information regarding the safety of the water.
    Your effort is greatly appreciated.

  7. Thank you so much for the honest facts about the waters of the Gulf. Do you know of anyone taking similar measurements in the Tampa/St. Pete area? I would love to know and be able to pass on the information.

    • Leslie,

      Thank you for following. I do not know of anyone monitoring in the Tampa/St. Pete area, but we are currently working on a database that will provide data from people or institutions sampling in areas outside of our. We will certainly keep you posted as to our progress.


  8. Why are there no oil updates for

    • Natasha,

      Sorry for the delay. We were in the Florida Keys for the past week. We have updated our last sampling date, and will be sampling again on Thursday. Please continue to look at our updates.

  9. I’m from the rainy Seattle area and my dream is to come to Sanibel and walk in the sun on the beautiful sandy beaches and find beautiful shells (and not globs of oil). What are the beaches looking like now? I don’t see any recent blogs about the oil spill.

    • The beaches are beautiful, the shells abundant and the weather is perfect. Come and share our bounty.

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