Casts + Blasts
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.