Fast Assessment of Sediment Toxicity Program™
Sediment toxins remain a significant and unmeasured component of the health of the ecosystem. In response, ORCA has developed the Fast Assessment of Sediment Toxicity (FAST) program. FAST is a "canary in a coal mine" method to assess relative toxicity of sediment samples using broad-spectrum toxicity tests. In essence, FAST quickly identifies pollution sinks in aquatic environments. On its own this information will identify regions of high toxicity, but will not indicate the source of the pollution. To meet that challenge, ORCA has developed a low-cost marine ecosystem monitoring network called the ORCA Kilroy, which uses state-of-the-art sensors to continuously measure an array of water quality parameters- speed, direction, temperature, salinity, depth, turbidity and prevalence of key micro-organisms- streaming that data via cellular signals and web-based interfaces twenty-four hours per day. Kilroy uses 21st century technology to provide instantaneous data, enabling conservation and enforcement managers with the critical information they need to achieve their mission of healthy coastal environments.
Combined, FAST identifies sinks and Kilroy identifies sources. ORCA's goal with FAST and Kilroy is to create a web-based pollution gradient map that uses data provided by FAST to provide a color illustration of toxic sediments along the coastal and freshwater habitats (similar to satellite images of sea surface temperature) and overlay that information with Kilroy data to indicate pollution sources. We believe this level of information, displayed on an easy-to-understand web-based map will empower local stakeholders to resolve the pollution issues in their backyard. Similar to an Adopt-A-Highway program, ORCA's FAST sampling sites and Kilroy networks can be set up along an entire watershed to collect data on every input source and, for the first time, provide the information needed for each community to enforce the Clean Water Act, provide a real-time measure of pollution, and measure the effectiveness of pollution mitigation.
Initial development of the FAST program was funded through a grant from the Springbank Foundation. With these funds ORCA was able to hire Dr. Beth Falls to direct the FAST Program. Springbank's vision and support has attracted additional program sponsors. St. Lucie County Mosquito Control District funded a proof of concept grant, the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties awarded ORCA a two year grant to develop a pollution gradient map of the Indian River Lagoon, and Strategic Diagnostics, the maker of one of the toxicity assays used in the FAST program, provided an in-kind donation of supplies to complete standardization and collection protocols.
Making Pollution Visible
ORCA's vision is that if pollution can be made visible we can see where it is entering our water ways and how it is accumulating in our ecosystems and work together to stop it at its source. We can also see which measures are working and which aren't. A case in point is the map below, that resulted from our Map-A-Mile Project. It shows total nitrogen in parts per million. High nitrogen is shown in red and low nitrogen in blue. The amount of red in this map is disturbing because high nitrogen can lead to algae blooms, reduced transparency and diminished fish populations. The most striking thing about this map is the high nitrogen accumulation in all the finger canals except for those associated with the Vero Beach Country Club, in the upper left hand corner, where they have been using best practices for lawn maintenance. The take home message is that it is possible to have a beautiful green lawn without over-fertilizing the Indian River Lagoon. To learn more about what you can do to help stop water pollution at its source see ORCA's Land to Sea Initiative.
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ORCA’s Map-A-Mile Project
Using ORCA's proven technology to identify polluted areas of our waters, ORCA has initiated a ground-breaking initiative to make pollution visible by mapping areas of pollution in an easy to understand, color gradient map, similar to a weather map. ORCA's pollution gradient map is a unique, visual conservation tool that will transform our ability to inform and educate communities about the condition of their local aquatic ecosystems and help the public, community leaders and elected officials make informed decisions on protecting and restoring critical water habitats.
In the Summer of 2011, ORCA Research Scientists and Field Technicians worked closely with interns to collect and process sediment and water samples in the Central Vero Beach portion of the Indian River Lagoon. Sediment samples were analyzed with ORCA's Fast Assessment of Sediment Toxicity (FAST) procedures, an analysis of total toxicity and sediment particle size, and included additional analysis for nitrogen, phosphorus and total organic carbon. Tissue samples from Eastern Oysters, Crassostrea virginica, were also collected at many of the sites and analyzed for total toxicity as well as a number of individual pollutants. Results of the sediment and tissue analyses bring us closer to visualizing the effects of non point source pollution on the lagoon. This pilot project was partially funded by Indian River Impact 100 and an anonymous donor.
Download ORCA's Campaign for a Clean Indian River Lagoon