SUN PHOTO/RUSTY CHINNIS
Coastal species like this Tampa Bay redfish are dependant
of clean, pollution free. water.
By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer
Last years red tide was a wake- up call for residents
and business people up and down Floridas west coast.
If it wasnt, it should have been. It may have been
the first time that the impacts of the bloom, and the
human inputs that exacerbate it, were really appreciated.
In years past, red tide outbreaks were more a temporary
annoyance that affected unlucky tourists and kept area
residents and anglers off the water for a week or two.
Last year should have made it clear that the bloom has
the potential to affect everyone: tourists, business owners,
restaurateurs, real estate agents, anglers and developers
I guess its human nature that we just want to bury
our heads after outbreaks and hope for the best, but I
have the uncomfortable feeling that those days are over.
Its time that everyone who has a stake in the health
of the local environment ask what they can do to effect
The devastating outbreak we experienced last year created
a dead zone in the Gulf that covered (by some estimates)
an area the size of Rhode Island. Whole areas of the bays
from Sarasota to Anna Maria Sound had extensive fish kills,
and in some areas, finfish were virtually wiped out.
Fortunately the news isnt all bad. This year we
had one of the best kingfish and Spanish mackerel runs
weve had in years. Tarpon fishing was as good as
Ive seen in 26 years, and the Gulf and bays have
been packed with baitfish. Divers exploring the Gulf bottom
report explosive growth in areas that were void of life
just months ago. Even speckled trout, the hardest hit
of all species, are starting to make a comeback that is
surprising the most optimistic observers.
To me the message is clear: red tide is here to stay and
is a part of the areas ecosystem. The environment
has a remarkable ability to rebound from even the most
persistent outbreaks, and during the worst of blooms,
persistent anglers continue to find fish.
The flip side of the equation is that human activities
continue to stress the local environment and impact the
recuperative power of the ecosystem. Loss of habitat,
stormwater runoff, phosphate and agricultural wastes,
and sewage discharge all degrade the water and the sea
grass beds that naturally clean the water column. The
time when we can use the resource and not be stewards
is, I think, over. We all need to get involved in the
solution on the local, state and national level.
So what can the average person do? Think globally, act
locally. Start right at home by being aware of what you
put on your lawns and flush down your drains and toilets.
Inevitably these things find their way back into our waters.
Beyond that, get involved on the community, county, state
and national level. Write letters, attend county commission
meetings and demand that politicians institute policies
that help protect our waters. Think of joining an organization
like START (Solution To Avoid Red Tide) or the Sierra
START is a grass roots, non-profit, citizen organization
dedicated to promoting and funding efforts for the mitigation,
control and prevention of red tide. START is involved
in increasing public awareness of the risks and concerns
of red tide and to communicate the efforts. Members work
to keep local, state and federal officials aware of the
need to provide continual funding for research into the
nature of red tide and to search for methods to control
red tide without negatively impacting the environment.
The Sierra Club is the nations oldest environmental
organization and in 2004 launched a major new campaign
to combat red tide along Floridas Gulf Coasts. The
Sierra Clubs plan to curb red tide includes:
Insisting on independent scientific review of research
on pollutions role in exacerbating and sustaining
red tide blooms along Floridas coasts
Support technology that detects and monitors for
harmful algae blooms, and promote safe methods for minimizing
Stop water management districts from releasing
untreated polluted water into rivers that empty into our
Demand better sewage treatment practices and facilities
Decrease non-point pollution run-off of fertilizers,
pesticides and animal wastes
The bottom line is that the red tide is a natural phenomenon
that is not likely to disappear from local waters. While
most scientists are still reluctant to state categorically
that pollution and run-off are responsible for the increasing
frequency and intensity of the blooms, they are quick
to note that the harmful algae is dependant on nitrogen.
Its not much of a leap to conclude that man-made
pollution is exacerbating the problem, and that it will
take a concerted effort from concerned citizens if we
are to have a future of clean healthy waters that support
a vibrant fishery. The solution is in our hands.
START (Solution To Address Red Tide) http://www.start1.com/Default.aspx
Sierra Club http://florida.sierraclub.org/sarasota/