NAVARRE — If residents or visitors would like to know how pristine the Santa Rosa Sound water is in Navarre Beach, good luck.


Navarre Beach Marine Science Station Director Charlene Mauro said very little reliable water quality information exists on the island, for example, for finding out about the purity of the Sound around the Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary reefs.


"Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance has a stellar robust water quality monitoring program," said Mauro. "Santa Rosa Sound does not have a lot of data and publications on water quality."


However, the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station received $115,000 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Bay Watershed Education and Training program. The project, called "Empowering Students to Take Action: Aquatic Care Team," provides an opportunity to collect baseline data to track future changes and educate the public about the condition of the Santa Rosa Sound and what can be done to keep it healthy.


VINTAGE PHOTOS: Navarre and Navarre Beach, 1960-2004


The program uses about 50 students 18 years or older in dual enrollment classes to take field observations and collect water samples at six sites for testing. The students take tests 24 times a year, or twice a month, at four locations on the south side of the Sound and two on the north.


Turbidity, water color, odor as well as pH, dissolved oxygen and total dissolved solids are among the data collected. The University of West Florida does testing for advanced nutrient analysis.


Lillian Driscoll, a Pace High School senior who wants to work with marine animals, understands Navarre Beach generates tourism.


"We have a lot of eco-tourism in our beaches and our bay," Driscoll said. "It’s important to understand what’s going on in our waterways. We don’t want toxicity in our waters."


The program offers students a "Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience." The MWEE gives them the ability to make informed decisions, suggest solutions, and communicate issues about watershed preservation locally.


Meanwhile, other special learning for the teens comes from local environmental experts from the Marine Wildlife Response, UWF, Gulf Coast Ocean Observation Systems, NOAA Sea Grant, Gulf Restoration Network, Clean Water Network and Santa Rosa County. In turn, the young students must teach about 1,500 fifth graders lessons they have learned during the year-long water testing.


Mauro said by the end of the school year, the students who participate on the Aquatic Care Team must summarize and communicate their findings to county commissioners and others.


"It’s not always a sexy topic," Mauro said. "But they’ve blown me away already demonstrating what they can do."