Vol 6 No. 48 - August 23, 2006

Red tide: Be proactive in finding a solution

Coastal species like this Tampa Bay redfish are dependant of clean, pollution free. water.

By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer

Last year’s red tide was a wake- up call for residents and business people up and down Florida’s west coast. If it wasn’t, 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 alike.

I guess it’s 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. It’s time that everyone who has a stake in the health of the local environment ask what they can do to effect change.

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 isn’t all bad. This year we had one of the best kingfish and Spanish mackerel runs we’ve had in years. Tarpon fishing was as good as I’ve 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 area’s 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 Club.

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 nation’s oldest environmental organization and in 2004 launched a major new campaign to combat red tide along Florida’s Gulf Coasts. The Sierra Club’s plan to curb red tide includes:

• Insisting on independent scientific review of research on pollution’s role in exacerbating and sustaining red tide blooms along Florida’s coasts

• Support technology that detects and monitors for harmful algae blooms, and promote safe methods for minimizing existing blooms.

• Stop water management districts from releasing untreated polluted water into rivers that empty into our coastal estuaries

• 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. It’s 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/

<< Go back to Index August 30

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper