Pensacola Bay Water Quality 2024 1st Quarter Report

Water quality continues to be one of the larger issues with the public concerning the health of our bay. Below are the 1st quarter results from monitoring projects Florida Sea Grant either oversees, or monitors.



Lakewatch is a citizen science monitoring project provided by the University of Florida.  Trained volunteers monitor local water bodies for nutrients.  UF provides an annual report in the summer, and we will update these data in the 3rd quarter.  Local bodies of water being monitored include lower Perdido Bay, Big Lagoon, Bayou Grande, Bayou Chico, Bayou Texar, upper Pensacola Bay.


Fecal Bacteria

As the name implies, fecal bacteria are those associated with feces.  Most are important in the process of digestion, and are not a real threat to our health, but their presence in open waters indicated feces is also there, and other feces related microbes that are pathogens could be present.  So, high levels of fecal bacteria are considered an indicator of a potential health risk and health advisories are issued.

In the case of saltwater, the fecal bacterium used as an indicator is Enterococcus.  Scientists have determined the concentration level for issuing a health advisory is 71 colonies of Enterococcus per 100 milliliters of sample.  If a sample has a count of 71 colonies (or higher) a second sample is collected for confirmation.  If confirmed, a health advisory will be issued.

In our area the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) monitors beaches where people swim and do so more frequently when it is warm and swimming season.  Historically, most of the swimming beaches near the barrier islands and the Gulf have health advisories issued fewer than 10% of the samples collected – for many it is less than 5%.  But for the bayous it is often at, or above, 30% of the samples.  Below are the 2024 1st quarter results.


Body of Water # of samples # of advisories % of samples requiring an advisory
Bayou Texar 10 5 .50
Sanders Beach 8 1 .13
Bruce Beach 8 3 .38
Bayou Chico 2 2 1.00
Bayou Grande 2 0 .00
Big Lagoon State Park 2 0 .00
Casino Beach 1 0 .00
Park East 1 0 .00
Park West 1 0 .00
Quietwater Beach 1 1 1.00
TOTAL 36 12 .33


Fecal Bacteria Notes/Comments:

So far in 2024 33% of the samples have required a health advisory.  Two locations, Bayou Chico and Quietwater Beach it has been 100%.  But it is important to note the FDOH has JUST begun sampling those.  That said, Bayou Texar has been sampled 10 times and an advisory has been issued 5 (50%) of them.  Most feel there is a strong correlation between the amount of rainfall and the number of advisories issues.  At the end of the first quarter the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has logged 12.91” of rain for our area for 2024.  As we enter the 2nd quarter the number of samples will increase, as will the number of sites.  We will continue to monitor both the advisories and the rainfall and provide next report in July.



There has been an increase in both annual rainfall and development in the Pensacola Bay area over the last decade.  This citizen science project monitors nearshore salinities to determine whether the increase run-off is impacting the salinity of the nearshore environment and whether it could impact the restoration of some selected species such as seagrass and scallops.

Volunteers are asked to monitor their sites once a week until they have logged 100 readings (about 2 years).  Turtle grass and bay scallops need salinity to be at, or above, 20 ppt (parts per thousand).  Below are the 2024 1st quarter results.


Body of Water # of readings Mean Median Mode
Big Lagoon Area 581 21 21 21
Big Lagoon / Seaglades 47 26 26 25
Big Lagoon State Park 101 18 18 15
Ft. McRee 4 22 22 19
Galvez Landing 100 22 22 22
Kees Bayou 100 20 21 14
Lower Perdido Bay 100 16 15 20
Old River 36 23 23 25
Perdido Key State Park 82 24 25 25
Siguenza Cove 11 22 21 21
Santa Rosa Sound Area 357 25 25 27
Big Sabine 88 23 23 26
Little Sabine 100 23 23 25
Oriole Beach 100 26 26 30
Shoreline Park 69 26 26 25
Pensacola Area 441 16 16 16
Bayou Grande 29 20 21 21
Navy Point SE 41 18 20 20
Navy Point SW 42 17 18 20
Bayou Texar 100 14 14 15
Bayou Chico 7 10 5 5
Bruce Beach 1 18 18  
Hawkshaw Memorial Park 72 13 12 15
Hawkshaw 9th Avenue 47 17 18 15
Sanders Beach 102 20 20 20


Salinity Notes/Comments:

Understanding that not all sites have logged their 100 readings and using the baseline of 20 ppt as suitable for turtle grass and bay scallops, both Big Lagoon and Santa Rosa Sound are currently suitable.  We know that turtle grass is currently growing in both bodies of water and, though not many, live bay scallops have been found as well.


There is an interesting note here in that the salinity near Big Lagoon State Park is below the 20 ppt mark, and below monitoring sites east, west, and south of it.  The reason is not understood.

It is also noted that the salinity in lower Perdido Bay is below the 20 ppt mark.  But it is believed this bay has historically had lower salinity than that of Big Lagoon.  We have not surveyed this area for the presence of seagrass but believe it is growing there.


The salinity in the downtown Pensacola Bay area is currently below the 20 ppt mark, but it was historically as well.  Neither turtle grass nor bay scallops were known to exist this far up the bay.  That said, many of these bodies of water do in fact support seagrasses.  The species usually found is widgeon grass (Ruppia maritima) which is more tolerant of lower salinity.


What Can Homeowners and Businesses Do to Help Improve Water Quality in the Bay Area?


Decreasing health advisories

  1. Enterococcous bacteria are found in the digestive tracts of birds and mammals. The argument is that high levels of these bacteria are most likely due to human waste, but managing pet waste will certainly help.  Heavy rainfall can wash pet waste into local drains and eventually waterways.  You can help by cleaning up after your pets.
  2. If you are on a septic system you need to develop, and follow, a septic maintenance program. If you are not sure how to do this, contact your county extension office for assistance.
  3. If you are on a septic system, and can convert to a sewer system, this will negate the need to maintain your septic and reduce the chance for septic leaks and overflows from reaching area waterways. For information on how to do this, contact your county extension office.
  4. If you are on a sewer system, the pipe connecting your property to the main sewer line at the street is your responsibility. You should have this line inspected for leaks or cracks.   There are companies in town that can do this for you.
  5. Whether you are on a septic or a sewer system everyone should be careful of the items they flush. Products such as cooking fats, oils, and grease can solidify in the lines and create backups and overflows, allowing untreated sewage to reach local waterways.  It is also known that milk will solidify as well.  Many products that are advertised as “flushable” are… but they do not degrade and can also create backups and overflows.  The Emerald Coast Utilities Authority does offer a program where they provide 1-gallon plastic jugs that you can pour your cooking fats, oils, and grease into.  You can then exchange full containers for empties at stations located around the county.  This is a free service, and you can locate a station near you by visiting their website.

Decreasing stormwater run-off and possible

  1. The basic idea is to try and keep the rainwater that falls on your property, on your property without causing flooding issues. This can be done by using the principals of the University of Florida’s Florida Friendly Landscaping program.  This would include using rain barrels and creating rain gardens within your lawn.  Read more about the Florida Friendly Landscaping program at the following website – and remember you can always contact your county extension office for help and advice.


Posted: April 3, 2024

Category: Coasts & Marine, Natural Resources, Water
Tags: Florida Sea Grant, Pensacola Bay, Water Quality

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