Floridians are facing a crisis as harmful algal blooms (including significant red tide events in southwest Florida) are impacting our ocean and coasts, killing iconic marine wildlife, impairing our beaches and making people sick. These events are endangering the Floridian way of life, one that depends on a vibrant, healthy ocean to sustain coastal communities and draw thousands of people to our beautiful beaches.
For example, at the peak of the 2018 red tide event there were blooms affecting nearly 1,000 miles of coastline from Pensacola to Port Canaveral. Red tide was most persistent in both inshore and offshore waters of six counties in Southwest Florida and, at its worst, covered thousands of square miles. Red tide events can grow as large as 10,000 square miles—bigger than the entire area of New Jersey.
Red tide is a naturally occurring organism that is always present in the salty coastal waters of Florida. But, due to a combination of circumstances that include airborne nutrients, waterborne pollutants, ocean currents and weather, Florida can experience large-scale blooms, such as the 2018 event. And when red tide blooms, it can be toxic to fish, birds, reptiles and mammals, even killing wildlife on the coasts. It can also cause significant respiratory distress in people, which can, in turn, hurt local economies as visitors and residents avoid spending time on the water.
But red tide is just one of a suite of devastating water quality events Florida has seen in recent years. Throw in the blue-green algae events that we have been seeing in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers, fueled by nutrient Lake Okeechobee discharges; Sprinkle in brown tide events in the Indian River Lagoon, potentially caused by ballast water discharges in Port Canaveral; Toss in domoic acid creating Pseudo-nitzchia in the Panhandle that can taint shellfish and undermine critically valuable fisheries.
The end result is a smorgasbord of ugly and unfortunate harmful algal bloom events that jeopardize Florida’s pristine environment and undermine the state’s valuable coastal economy.
In order to mitigate harmful algal blooms in the future, we need to restore clean freshwater flows to estuaries and coastal habitats, improve water quality by reducing pollution (including nutrient pollution) and put an end to the human activities that are contributing to harmful algal blooms.
Check out our Citizens Guide to Advocacy to see how you can help stem the tide for Florida.
Want to learn more about algal blooms in Florida? Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Environmental Studies (CES) has partnered with the U.S. Geological Survey to develop a series of online modules that will assist in understanding the science and challenges related to algal blooms, improving communication among decision makers and others.
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