SWFL Harmful Algal Bloom Update
So Much to Learn
All attempts at normalcy failed me in July. I’ve spent a lot of time scouting our waterways, connecting with concerned citizens, and yea, arguing on the internet. I’ve also attended numerous public forums, council meetings, and have met a lot of great people who genuinely want to help. My birthday was somewhere in the mix too.
Anyway, the following is an attempt to recap what’s been going on since our last blog post following the July 17 Army Corps meeting in Cape Coral.
The Bacteria Runs Amuck
The day of the ACOE meeting (Tuesday, July 17th) our neighborhood smelled awful–like a steaming pile of you-know-what. Our canal surface was clear of cyanobacteria (aka blue-green algae). But it turns out the wind was holding it in an adjacent dead-end canal. That algae mat and its smell only got worse over the next 3-4 days. We wound up spending the weekend away from our home. It was making the whole family feel light-headed and nauseous.
The following week, Calusa Waterkeeper took some samples in three SE Cape Coral dead-end canals. They were tested by an independent lab for microcystins, one of the most prevalent types of cyanotoxins. All three results came back as toxic, and all to an extreme–thousands of times over the EPA threshold for recreational contact.
Even just breathing the fumes, it was certainly making us feel funny. I don’t regret erring on the side of caution and getting our family out of there. The prevailing wind changed in a few days and we came back Sunday night.
If you’re really into learning more about this cyano-stuff or just want to get the bejeesus scared out of you, there is a great opportunity coming up. On August 14th there will be a showing of the documentary Toxic Puzzle, followed by an expert panel. This should be an excellent venue for learning more about cyanotoxins and their health effects. Tickets are just $10 at Broadway Palm in Fort Myers, pending availability.
Proceeds will pay for the movie licensing, the expert panel’s travel expenses and the remainder will benefit Captains for Clean Water and Calusa Waterkeeper. The panel will consist of guests Dr. Walter Bradley, Dr. Larry Brand, Dr. James Metcalf and Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani. Rae Ann Wessel of SCCF will be serving as the moderator.
Our local officials are doing the best they can. It’s faaaaar from a desirable hand that they’ve been dealt. Mayors Joe Coviello of Cape Coral and Kevin Ruane of Sanibel have headed up a mayor’s coalition. They and other local leaders have been working hard on these issues and appealing to higher levels of government.
Lee County Commissioners were able to obtain $700,000 in grant money from the state of Florida to attempt some clean-up of local canals. As I type this, they are working on petitioning for extended resources. This cleanup constitutes much-needed relief for some residents. I just hope they take all possible precautions during disposal operations.
Unfortunately for all of us on the coasts, the Army Corps is still doing their job of discharging thousands of cubic feet per second into the lower Caloosahatchee River. We’re awash in billions of gallons of “fresh” water that has no business being in our estuary whatsoever.
If our waters had their typical salinity right now, the cyanobacteria would be dead.
At nearly the same time in July, the red tide also peaked to horrific levels. The west wind that was steadily holding the cyanoblooms in our canals was also blowing the red tide and all of its victims onshore to our local beaches. The magnitude is just beyond words. This has prompted an immense amount of public outcry, media coverage and additional states of emergency.
SARASOTA COUNTY, FL (WWSB) – Sarasota County crews were out Friday cleaning up thousands of dead fish that have washed ashore further south, as well as on Lido and Turtle Beaches. Siesta Beach Manager, Cindy Turner, said they started cleanup Thursday and crews will continue to go out until it gets better.
It is important for all of us to understand that red tide (karenia brevis) is entirely different from cyanobacteria. (Note that I’m trying to refrain from calling it blue-green algae because it is not an algae at all, it’s a bacteria). Both of these bacteria, or harmful algal blooms, feed largely on the same elemental nutrients–nitrogen and phosphorous.
Calls to Action
The bottom line is that in Florida, we’re not doing nearly enough science on these harmful algal blooms. As Jenny Staletovich of the Miami Herald recently reported, Florida Sea Grant director Karl Havens says, “No one is out on the lake collecting water samples of the bloom. We’re flying blind.”
The Calusa Waterkeeper’s calls to action include several points regarding reinstating Florida’s Harmful Algal Bloom Taskforce, as well as making cyanobacteria a regulated contaminant. They also hope to address many basin management practices and storm runoff regulations that are deemed to be inadequate for Florida’s current land-use.
The current political landscape in Florida has brewed much chaos. Many states have better policies and numerical values in place for responding to harmful algal blooms. In Florida, deregulation is the order of the day, oversight is minimal, and nutrient (nitrogen & phosphorous) pollution runs rampant. State agencies have been hobbled by budget cuts and corporate-friendly policymakers.
As we come into election season, it will be very important to ask the tough questions of our officials and candidates. I’m certainly no expert yet, but am learning volumes each day. One of the finest resources I’ve found on questioning 2018 officials and candidates on Florida’s water quality crisis, is this document from SCCF:
Scroll Down for Candidate Questions – What We Can Do Demand Answers from Electeds and Candidates What we can do during the current water emergency is apply pressure to elected representatives and candidates for elected office. SCCF offers a letter and series of questions, below, for you to use in communicating to our elected officials and to pose to candidates in the upcoming elections.
If you have questions, please let me know. We’ve got plenty of information on-hand and little time to organize it all!
Thank you to all the people who have participated in recent events and meetings, or offered to help.