How Did the Fecal Bacteria Issue in the Pensacola Area Go in 2021?

2021 Fall Health Advisory Report – Pensacola Bay Area


For those who may not be in the know, the Florida Department of Health (DOH) monitors local swimming areas for a form of fecal bacteria known as Enterococcus. This bacterium is associated with the large intestine of birds and mammals and can be found in feces. Its presence in local waterways is not alarming unless the concentrations are too high, suggesting excessive fecal waste and potential health issues.


To monitor the concentrations Florida DOH collected 100ml of sample from 13 swimming areas around the Pensacola area. Bruce Beach was just recently added. The samples are collected on Tuesdays, processed over the next 24 hours and reported by the end of the week. Due to costs, not all beaches are sampled every week, but all are during the peak summer months when people are swimming more. Because of this we look at what percent of the samples collected require a health advisory to determine where problems exist.


The requirements for issuing a health advisory are listed below. If a 100ml sample shows 71 colonies or more, a second sample is collected. If the repeating sample is also above the 71-colony threshold, a public health advisory is issued.


2021 Numbers

  • 251 samples were collected from the Pensacola area in 2021. 40% of those were from Bayou Texar and Sanders Beach (which are monitored every week, year-round).
  • 44 health advisories were issued (18% of the samples collected). 59% of those were from the Bayou Texar / Sanders Beach 12 (27%) came from Bayou Chico, which was only sampled 17 times.
  • Bayou Chico has the highest percent of samples requiring a healthy advisory – 71% of the samples from Chico required this.


The Top-Five Advisory Locations

  1. 71% of samples – Bayou Chico
  2. 34% of samples – Bayou Texar
  3. 29% of samples – Bayou Grande
  4. 19% of samples – Sanders Beach
  5. 5% of samples – Big Lagoon State Park

8 of the 13 sites (62%) did not require a health advisory all year. Most of these are along the beaches and barrier islands. Our biggest problems continue to be the bayous.


What Can You Do to Help Reduce the Number of Advisories Issued in Our Bayous?

  1. If you are on a septic system either (a) develop and initiate a septic tank maintenance plan. Be sure to get a pump out every five years. (b) consider (if you are near enough) converting to sewer.
  2. If you are on a sewer system watch what you pour down the drain. Fats, oils, and grease – even old milk – can solidify in the pipes and cause sanitary sewage overflows during heavy rains.
  3. If you have pets, clean up after them.


We will continue to monitor the numbers from the Florida DOH and will partner with them to bring information to community groups and households to help with suggestions on maintenance and what to do about fats, oils, and grease or how to convert from septic to sewer. If you are interested in a program, contact me (Rick O’Connor) at 850-475-5230 ext.1111.


Enterococcus bacteria count rubric for health advisories (Florida Department of Health)


GOOD 0-35 colonies/100ml of sample

MODERATE 36-70 colonies/100ml

POOR 71> colonies/100ml


Health Advisory Frequency

Data provided by the Florida Department of Health’s Healthy Beaches Program

Body of Water # of samples collected # of POOR reports # of advisories issued % frequency of advisories
Bayou Texar 47 18 16 .34
Sanders Beach 53 16 10 .19
Bayou Chico 17 12 12 .71
Bayou Grande 17 7 5 .29
Big Lagoon SP 19 4 1 .05
Perdido Key SP ND ND ND
Casino Beach 17 0 0 .00
Park East 17 0 0 .00
Park West 17 0 0 .00
Quietwater Beach 17 0 0 .00
Ft. Pickens 8 0 0 .00
Opal Beach 8 0 0 .00
Johnson’s Beach 8 0 0 .00
Bruce Beach 6 0 0 .00
TOTAL 251 57 44 .18

Posted: December 20, 2021

Category: Natural Resources, Water
Tags: Fecal Bacteria, Florida Sea Grant, Health Advisories, Pensacola Bay

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