Devastation in Southwest Florida- Red Tide and Green Algae

I don’t know if anyone is following the devastation which is occurring in the Ft Myers Southwest Florida area- it is really scary. I will be going down to Ft Myers for writing related business, so I will be getting a first hand look at the devastation occurring in the Gulf and near shore estuaries. The clean water issue has been the focus of many of my posts. I will include an editorial by Missy Mayfield, the Editor of The Island Sandpaper– todays edition August 3rd, 2018,

 

ALGAE & TOURISM – A BAD MIX

 

Anyone who has ever wondered how connected Islanders are with the natural environment around us, got a clear answer this week.

The natural environment is very much a part of who we are as a community and this week our community has been suffering.

This week felt like an important part of our community was horribly wounded and we could do very little about it – the damage was already done. Seeing the death and devastation that covered our beaches and canals felt similar to the aftermath of Irma last fall.

What happened? Beginning last Thursday, July 26, the beach onFort Myers Beach began filling with dead fish and other sea life, red driftalgae and sea grasses as a Red Tide bloom was pushed toward our shore.The piles of grass, algae and fish were over a foot high in some places. Fish, horseshoe crabs, eels, little fish, big fish, it all piled up on our beach.And then began to work its way into Estero Bay and then into our canals.It’s difficult to describe the visual scene of that much destruction and im- possible to capture the horrible stench.

The water that surrounds our Island is filled with life. Plants, fish,mammals, crustaceans, arthropods, bivalves, even algae. All of that life was affected by the Red Tide bloom.

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For months, since last October, we’ve heard about a Red Tide bloom, but it was out in the Gulf somewhere, drifting between Lee and Pi- nellas Counties. Every so often it would be pushed close enough to shore that we felt its effects – stinging eyes, scratchy throat, but then it would blow further away from shore.
again. After this week, none of us will dismiss Red Tide as a minor irritant

For weeks, we’ve watched the water releases from Lake Okeechobee that began June 1. We watched the blue-green algae grow in the Lake and Caloosahatchee River and spread into canals in Fort Myers and Cape Coral. The green slime of those blooms held our attention as we began to see some of that algae in Fort Myers Beach canals.

And while we were looking east, wondering if we would see al-gae-filled canals here, we got clobbered from the west by Red Tide. Sur-prise! About a week ago, on-shore winds & currents combined to move that Gulf Red Tide bloom close enough to Fort Myers Beach for us all to get a memorable, week-long and counting, whiff of the disaster that it is for sea life. Make no mistake, the dead fish and other sea life are not a result of the bloom’s presence here, that’s been happening out in the Gulf all along. We are just seeing it because now it’s right here in front of us.

For months, the result of that killer Red Tide was out of sight, out of mind, way out in the Gulf. This past week many of those dead sea crea- tures ended up in our front yard, the beach, and our back yard, the bay and canals.

THIS AIN’T NATURAL

Red Tide may be a natural phenomenon, but monster Red Tide blooms like this one are not. The causes and contributing factors need to be researched. The warming of our atmosphere means that warmer air and water may contribute. The lack of cooler air and water last winter may have prevented it from dying off as most blooms do in the winter.

While there is much more to learn about Red Tide and algae blooms in general, there is a serious suspicion that this bloom has persisted so long and grown so large because it’s being fed by the “nutrient-rich” waterflowing from Lake O out into the Gulf. If we do nothing, we are sure to see more of these gigantic algae blooms that last for years, killing off our fish- eries, which will in turn kill our economy.

In addition to the environmental impact, we must demand that ourelected officials get serious about the economic impact of algae bloomsthat are tied to water releases from Lake O. We can’t stop the blooms from forming naturally in the Gulf, but we sure can stop feeding them fertilizers that help them grow from regular blooms to monster blooms that kill every- thing they touch. We can also stop releasing known algae blooms into the river.

There can be no question, algae blooms, whether blue-green or red, translate into a huge loss of tourism dollars. Accommodations manag- ers on the beach scrambled this week to keep their guests happy and dealwith cancellations. Boat captains cancelled tours and fishing trips. Restau-rants saw fewer patrons, Marinas saw less traffic. From top to bottom oureconomy relies on clean water. When we don’t have it, our economy suf- fers. We all hurt.

Bad water quality and tourism do not mix. Use your voice to de- mand permanent changes to our water management system. There isno one magic fix, but there is a whole suite of changes that would giveour economy & environment a chance. For starters, everyone must be accountable for the water that leaves their property, including agriculture. Septic tanks must be inspected. Water north of the lake must be cleaned up & water storage projects must be fast tracked.

The goal has to be to stop pumping polluted water into coastal es-tuaries. This can be fixed, but it’s going to take political willpower the likesof which we haven’t seen in a long time.

And for a very local & practical way to help our community today, please patronize beach businesses. They need your support and your business now.

Please share with your tribe!