Casts + Blasts

Saltwater Sportsman - - Table Of Contents / Departments -

An­glers, boaters, busi­ness own­ers, and count­less res­i­dents of coastal com­mu­ni­ties are up in arms as a foulsmelling green sludge cov­ers res­i­den­tial canals and other wa­ter­ways, and mil­lions of pounds of dead fish — in­clud­ing snook, red­fish, seatrout and tar­pon — and sea tur­tles, man­a­tees, dol­phins, and even a whale shark have been cleared from southwest Florida beaches.

Kare­nia bre­vis is the or­gan­ism that causes red tide and is nat­u­rally found in back­ground con­cen­tra­tions in the Gulf of Mex­ico, but the cur­rent bloom stretched all the way from the Tampa Bay area south to Marco Is­land, and red tide counts in southwest Florida wa­ters dur­ing sum­mer reached 1 mil­lion cells per liter and higher, more than enough to kill marine life and cause breath­ing is­sues in hu­mans, ac­cord­ing to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion.

The red tide started last Oc­to­ber but in­ten­si­fied in June, after heavy rains in­creased sea­sonal re­leases from Lake Okee­chobee, send­ing blue-green al­gae blooms — which can also kill fish, oys­ters, sea grass and other marine life — down the Caloosa­hatchee River to­ward the southwest coast, pil­ing up in area canals.

“I of­ten got in the wa­ter to work on boats docked at cus­tomers’ homes, but not these days. The smell is pretty bad, and I worry about what could hap­pen from re­peated con­tact with that gunk in the wa­ter,” said Fabian Guer­rero, owner/op­er­a­tor of a boat de­tail­ing busi­ness in Cape Coral. “Some canals were hold­ing about 2,000 pounds of rot­ting fish right be­side peo­ple’s homes,” said Jesse Laven­der, with Lee County Parks and Recre­ation.

If this all sounds fa­mil­iar, it’s be­cause a toxic blue­green al­gae bloom fouled the St. Lu­cie es­tu­ary and crip­pled busi­nesses in east cen­tral Florida in 2016, forc­ing Florida Gov. Rick Scott to de­clare a state of emer­gency, as he did again re­cently in Lee, Col­lier and Char­lotte coun­ties, the most im­pacted by the red tide, a month after he de­clared a sim­i­lar emer­gency for com­mu­ni­ties slimed by blue-green al­gae.

Scott has long been a tar­get of en­vi­ron­men­tal protesters. con­tin­ued

An on­go­ing 10-month-long red tide, cou­pled with mas­sive dis­charges of blue-green al­gae from Lake Okee­chobee, wreaks havoc along Florida’s Gulf coast.

Upon tak­ing of­fice in 2010, he quickly dis­man­tled bi­par­ti­san en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions that had been decades in the mak­ing, and gut­ted Florida’s five re­gional wa­ter man­age­ment districts, slash­ing their bud­gets by $700 mil­lion and pack­ing their ap­pointed boards with de­vel­op­ers. He also en­gi­neered the fir­ing of 134 em­ploy­ees at Florida’s Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion, and bat­tled and even­tu­ally bested the EPA on the im­ple­men­ta­tion of clean wa­ter stan­dards.

In 2012, Scott elim­i­nated a statewide sep­tic tank in­spec­tion pro­gram and an ini­tia­tive to re­ha­bil­i­tate pol­luted fresh­wa­ter springs. His ap­pointees on the ham­strung South Florida Wa­ter Man­age­ment District dashed plans to buy 46,800 acres of sugar com­pany land where the state planned to build giant re­ten­tion ponds to store and fil­ter pol­luted lake wa­ter. Un­der Scott’s watch, spend­ing for the state’s land con­ser­va­tion pro­gram Florida For­ever plunged from $100 mil­lion a year to just $17 mil­lion by 2013. And in 2016, he signed into law weaker stan­dards for toxic chem­i­cals dumped into Florida’s rivers, lakes and coastal wa­ters, a bill that es­sen­tially al­lowed Big Ag to po­lice its own fer­til­izer pol­lu­tion.

If or how much re­leases from Lake Okee­chobee are to blame for red tides, and what role nu­tri­ents from dy­ing blue-green al­gae and fish play is un­clear, but it ap­pears that, in­stead of pro­tec­tions that could have mit­i­gated the dam­age now in­flicted upon the southwest coast and its in­hab­i­tants, Florida has got­ten more pol­lu­tion, less over­sight, and a de­pleted bud­get for re­me­di­a­tion, set­ting the stage for eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ter.

A coali­tion of watch­dog groups, in­clud­ing Now or Nev­er­glades, Bull­sugar.org, Cap­tains for Clean Wa­ter, and Ever­glades Trust urge you to vote in the 2018 elec­tions and of­fer their take on can­di­dates (of both par­ties) for your con­sid­er­a­tion: ev­er­glade­strust.org/2018_ vote_­for_wa­ter.

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