Tag Archives: Wildlife

2018 red tide outbreak — not Mother Nature’s doing

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Linda Jones receives the Suncoast Waterkeeper Environmental Achievement Award March 3, recognizing decades of activism and opposition to phosphate mining and inappropriate development. Jones led the Manatee-Sarasota Sierra Club in opposition to Long Bar Pointe.
The blue line on the graph represents an average of 10 years of FWC data from years before Florida’s development boom, depicting red tide as it may have been historically, when the Conquistadors arrived and began keeping records. The red line represents more recent averages of FWC data. A line for 2010-19 would be off the graph. Islander Graphic: Larry Brand
A microscopic-size cell of Karenia brevis, the species responsible for red tide. Islander Courtesy Photo

By Andy Mele, Special to The Islander

As 150 guests at the Suncoast Waterkeeper Brunch for the Bay learned March 3, the red tide bloom in 2018 was not a natural occurrence.

The determining factor in today’s red tides, after all variables are accounted for, is human-induced nutrient pollution — primarily nitrates and phosphates. Nutrients are not merely a marginal contributor, as some institutions and elected officials would like us to believe.

True, Karenia brevis, the toxic alga that populates the lethal blooms we call red tide is a naturally occurring organism. It is found in waters around the globe.

And, yes, red tides have been documented since the arrival of Europeans to Florida’s shore. But there is a difference between the naturally occurring red tides and the rapidly growing red tides we have endured for decades.

About Karenia brevis
Karenia brevis is also known as red tide when its numbers become higher than 1,000 cells per liter. K.brevis emits brevetoxins that can become airborne in water spray and wind. At concentrations above 10,000 cells/liter, red tide can cause respiratory symptoms in humans. Above 50,000 cells per liter, fish mortality begins to occur. Above 1,000,000 cells/liter, discoloration of the water can be seen. Concentrations as high as 50,000,000 cells/liter were observed during the 2018 red tide event.

Larry Brand, Ph.D. and a research scientist at the University of Miami, was the featured speaker at Suncoast Waterkeeper’s annual brunch at the Bradenton Yacht Club in Palmetto.

Brand told his audience there is a fifteenfold increase in K. brevis concentrations that is contributing to today’s mega-blooms. After accounting for geological and geographical contributions to red tide, Brand said, “The only remaining variable that has increased enough to account for it is us.”

Brand explained some of the complexities of Florida’s red tide. Plants — and algae are plants — require 16 parts nitrogen to one part phosphorus. Where that 16N:1P ratio is found, there can be a natural red tide bloom.

The waters on the East Coast of Florida — where the St. Lucie Canal empties Lake Okeechobee discharges thick with toxic blue-green algae — are dominated by limestone deposits and are naturally rich in nitrogen. Hence, phosphorus is required to provide the optimum 16:1 nutrient that drives algal growth. No phosphorus, no algae. Phosphorus is relatively scarce on the East Coast.

On the southwest Gulf Coast, however, the opposite circumstances prevail. Because of massive natural phosphate formations underlying west-central Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico, the coastal waters are rich in phosphorus from a variety of inputs, including phosphate mine drainage. Here, algae need nitrogen to stimulate growth. No nitrogen, no algae. It’s called “nitrogen-limited.”

However, when Lake Okeechobee’s nitrogen-rich blue-green algae enters the system from the Caloosahatchee River, the conditions for explosive growth are met.

Brand lists four principal sources of nitrogen: animal waste, crop fertilizer, stormwater runoff and illegal sewage discharges. All have increased exponentially since the 1950s along with Florida’s population and development, when the first sample run was conducted by FWC. In the 1950s, less than 10 percent of the Florida coastline was developed, while the remainder was woodlands, grasslands and wetlands. Today, more than 90 percent is developed and we’re flushing pollutants into the bays and Gulf.

Agricultural sources — animal waste and fertilizer — are the major causes of intense algal blooms in Lake Okeechobee. They are transported down the Kissimmee River, and pumped north from sugar cane fields south of the lake. The other two sources — stormwater and sewage — supply a steady diet of nutrients for red tide as it expands up and down the Gulf Coast.

Aside from people with respiratory symptoms who may suffer chronic asthma or COPD, the effects of K. brevis are immediately noticeable, leading people to leave the area, although no long-term or acute effects are known. The only known human fatalities associated with red tide have been from shellfish poisoning. Shellfish filter water through their gills to extract food and oxygen and, as K. brevis cells accumulate in shellfish, they can be fatal if eaten.

Blue-green algae, on the other hand, which is consumed by fish and shellfish, are suspected of having long-term impacts, specifically ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, without short-term impacts to warn of exposure. The correlations between algae and disease are still being studied, but an environmental toxin, beta-methylamino-L-alanine or BMAA, is found in both victims of the diseases and the blue-green algae.

BMAA appears to provide a causative link.

And BMAA has been documented in almost all shrimp and species of fish from the areas of the red tide bloom.

As a general caution, Brand suggested not consuming any seafood from areas impacted by red tide for several months after the event has subsided.

Data sets for 1954-63 are regarded as baseline “naturally-occurring” red tide, approximately what Hernando de Soto or Ponce de Leon might have seen in the 1500s — neither a threat to tourism nor an apocalyptic killer of fish and marine mammals.

But today’s conditions are both, according to Brand, and it’s worsening.

The ozonators, bubblers and clay sprinklers being touted by Mote Marine Laboratory and some elected officials as fixes are unproven, wildly expensive and cannot be scaled up to levels needed to treat the coastline. Brand says they appear to be strategies for developing revenue from wealthy canal homeowners, and cannot be taken seriously as solutions to red tide.

He said it, and Suncoast Waterkeeper has been saying it since last summer: the only practical, meaningful and affordable solution is to stop the nutrient pollution at its source. And its true source is not at a dairy farm or a sugar cane field. It is in Tallahassee.

Here’s the Waterkeeper solution to red tide.

Florida urgently needs:
• Numeric, enforceable water quality standards and the FDEP staff and budget to enforce them.
• Common-sense limits on development.
• No more phosphate mining.
• Elected officials who understand that as the water goes, so goes Florida.
• A comprehensive water and aquifer management program, including conservation measures, pricing and limits.

Brand and Suncoast Waterkeeper maintain that without action and change, there is little chance for improvement and there’s a strong prospect the state’s water crisis will worsen.

Andy Mele, of Suncoast Waterkeeper, is an advocate for a better environment and responsible development in Manatee County. He is former executive director of a major Hudson River environmental group that was instrumental in forcing General Electric to remove 300,000 pounds of toxic PCBs from the river. He authored “Polluting for Pleasure,” the book that rendered two-stroke outboard motors all but extinct, keeping millions of gallons of oil and gasoline from U.S. waterways every year. He can be reached at andymele@mac.com.

Second batch of clams seeded

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A second batch of clams purchased by the Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency line the dock at the South Coquina Boat Ramp March 9 ready to be loaded onto a boat for seeding in Sarasota Bay near the Historic Bridge Street Pier. Purchased for for $36,000, the 200,000 clams, which each filter several gallons of water a day, are the first phase in the CRA’s plans for a living shoreline, complete with oysters and reef balls. Islander Photos: Ryan Paice
State Rep. William Robinson Jr., R-Bradenton, left, and Bradenton Beach City Commissioner Ralph Cole get ready to participate March 9 in seeding the second batch of clams in the water near the Historic Bridge Street Pier.
Rusty Chinnis from Sarasota Bay Watch and his crew, along with participants state Rep. William Robinson Jr., R-Bradenton, and Bradenton Beach Commissioner Ralph Cole, right, drop clams into the water near the Historic Bridge Street Pier March 9.
William Robinson Jr. drops clams purchased by the Bradenton Beach CRA into the water near the Historic Bridge Street Pier March 9. Each of the clams will filter gallons of water a day.

A second batch of clams purchased by the Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency line the dock at the South Coquina Boat Ramp March 9 ready to be loaded onto a boat for seeding in Sarasota Bay near the Historic Bridge Street Pier. Purchased for for $36,000, the 200,000 clams, which each filter several gallons of water a day, are the first phase in the CRA’s plans for a living shoreline, complete with oysters and reef balls. Islander Photos: Ryan Paice

Clams stall Bradenton Beach’s living shoreline project

Hurry up and wait.

Bradenton Beach’s living shoreline project — seeding the bayfront adjacent to the Historic Bridge Street Pier with clams — is stalled.

City engineer Lynn Burnett told Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency members Feb. 6 the clams won’t arrive until the end of winter.

The development of a living shoreline involves populating the waters around the city pier with clams, which filter and benefit water quality, as well as other sea life.

Clam farmer Carter Davis from Farm Raised Clams of Southwest Florida in St. James City is providing the clams.

Burnett said she spoke with Bruce Barber, executive director of the Gulf Shellfish Institute, about placement for the city’s 200,000 clams.

“There’s a pretty big effort and coordination that needs to take place with all of that. So we’re wanting to have a little bit more time. Let season subside a little bit and get a successful placement,” Burnett said.

Helping with the task of transporting the clams from St. James to Bradenton Beach is CRA member and Beach House Restaurant owner Ed Chiles. He has volunteered a refrigerated truck that can carry 6,000 pounds of clams with deliveries to the site one day a week for four-five weeks.

Sarasota Bay Watch will oversee placement and hire local fishers for the task, a move initiated by the CRA to support fishers impacted by red tide in 2018.

City Commissioner Ralph Cole, said, “This is one little step in the direction that could, and I say could, help a lot as far as water quality goes.”

Holmes Beach dives into Spring Lake cleanup options

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Spring Lake, a polluted body of water between 68th and 70th streets in Holmes Beach, was determined to be brackish by the Southwest Florida Water Management District. City officials will decide next how to clean and aerate the lake. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Questions about Spring Lake have been answered.

And action will be taken.

The lake, a saltwater-fed lake between 68th and 70th streets — has been undergoing review to determine the best way to remove the “depth of muck and sewage that has settled to the bottom,” according to city engineer Lynn Burnett.

She met with representatives from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, who provided historical documents indicating the lake originally was a mangrove-heavy, upper wetland area before it was excavated to create two lakes, joined by a channel, stocked with fish and connected to outfall pipes.

Burnett said the work was executed prior to Swiftmud assuming jurisdiction over the brackish lake.

“It is neither a freshwater system nor a saltwater system,” she said. “They deemed it as a brackish system,” adding that Swiftmud said the lake will “always be a brackish system.”

If the city wants to clean up Spring Lake and provide the best quality of water, the lake must be dredged, and an aeration system installed to preserve the saltwater-freshwater balance.

According to a bathymetric survey, the lowest depth is 7 feet, as compared to historical records from the time the lake was excavated, which state the depth was 10 feet.

“So there is 3 feet of muck at the bottom of Spring Lake, on average,” according to Burnett, who said core samples were taken to determine the level of pollution. Once those results are received, she recommends approaching Manatee County for assistance with dredging and disposing of the sludge.

“There’s a discussion that needs to happen with Manatee County after we know the actual composition,” Burnett said.

Additionally, two WaStop tidal regulating valves installed in 2017 in the lake as part of stormwater improvements must stay in place, Burnett recommended.

“Removing those would subject property owners to flooding, and (Swiftmud) would not support that request,” she said.

Removal of the valves would require a permit and put the city in jeopardy of losing a stormwater grant.

The next city commission meeting will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive, with a work session to follow.

Watching the tide

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Manatee County Marine Rescue lifeguards Joey Santos and Marshall Greene watch for any sign of distress on the beach. Under sunny skies, they reported lots of beachgoers enjoying the day Jan. 23 at the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach, where the temperature reached 83 degrees. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
A crowd gathers Jan. 23 to mingle and dance to the sound of the Sea Notes Jazz Band at the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. Islander Photos: Kathy Prucnell
Beachgoers walk the miles of white sand, while few people brave the 66-degree water in Gulf of Mexico Jan. 23 as afternoon winds kicked up the surf at Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach.

World’s longest dolphin study continues in AMI’s backyard

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Researchers monitor long-term resident dolphins in Sarasota Bay by photographic identification and on-site observations as they conduct studies for the Sarasota Bay Dolphin Project.
Fins are used for identification on dolphins, as with this photo of Saida Beth, a 36-year-old female who gave birth to her 11th calf in the summer of 2018. Islander Photos: Courtesy SDRP under NMFS Scientific Research Permit No. 20455.

When three juvenile bottlenose dolphins died near the Kingfish Boat Ramp in November 2018, they were identified as fifth-generation Sarasota Bay dolphins.

But what does that mean?

The Sarasota Dolphin Research Project was the point of reference. SDRP is conducting the longest continuous study of marine mammals in the world.

Generations of dolphins in the waters surrounding Anna Maria Island have been identified and followed by research scientists who call Sarasota Bay their living laboratory.

Blair Irvine, who serves on the board of directors for Dolphin Biology Research Institute in Sarasota, and a then-high school student named Randy Wells, started the project in 1970.

The driving question of that time?

Do dolphins live here all the time or do they pass through?

Almost 50 years later, researchers know the dolphins do live here, generation after generation, Wells told The Islander.

Wells is the director of the Chicago Zoological Society’s SDRP and works from an office at Mote Marine Laboratory.

The project research encompasses husbandry, threats to dolphins from environmental issues such as the recent red tide, common illnesses, what and where dolphins eat and how far they move about in their home range.

The CZS took over the SDRP in 1989. The CZS, based at Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield, Illinois, was the first inland oceanarium to contain live dolphins in the United States, adding them in 1961.

“We had no idea where the dolphins lived when we started. We knew nothing about the local resident community,” Wells said.

Now, the project is studying a fifth generation of Sarasota Bay dolphins.

With long-term surveys developed along the way, scientists have learned about dolphin social behavior, habitat needs and the impact of humans on dolphin’s lives and health.

Veterinary knowledge from the project has been used worldwide to develop protocols on treating sick and injured dolphins.


The outlook for Sarasota Bay dolphins

Wells said long-term, the outlook for the bay dolphins is guarded.

“It’s all because of the red tide,” he said. “We lost residents in the program from 45 years old to the juveniles at Anna Maria that were about a year and a half old. But it’s the long-range effects we are concerned about.”

Wells said after a severe red tide event in 2004-05, prey fish declined 90 percent for the Sarasota Bay dolphins.

This resulted in increased dolphin mortalities in 2006, including a 2 percent jump in fishing-related deaths caused by dolphin interactions with anglers.

Wells said as available fish become scarce, dolphins often turn their attention to anglers for an easy meal.

“Don’t feed dolphins, ever,” he advised. “If dolphins do approach you while you have fishing lines out, reel them in and move locations. Do not release fish when dolphins are close by.”

Now, with the 2018-19 bout of red tide, Wells said, “we are seeing the same 90 percent decline in prey fish now.”

“We may not know the outcome for a year or more on the Sarasota Bay dolphins mortality,” he said.

Escrap, hazardous waste collected at Coquina

Manatee County in collaboration with the island municipalities will collect household hazardous waste and electronics 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26.

The collection will be at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach.

People can dispose of solvents, latex and oil based paints, garden pesticides, waste oil, propane tanks, fluorescent bulbs, mercury-containing devices such as thermostats and thermometers, as well as pool chemicals.

Old gasoline in gasoline containers and some household, auto and marine batteries also will be collected. alkaline batteries, which can be disposed of with household garbage, will not be collected.

Electronics to be collected include TVs, computer components, copiers, video and audio equipment and also small household items, such as microwaves, hair dryers, irons, cellphones, tablets, digital cameras and battery chargers.

No radioactive items, such as smoke detectors, will be accepted. And no bio-hazardous materials, such as needles, will be accepted.

For more information, call Manatee County Solid Waste at 941-798-6761 or go online to www.mymanatee.org/escrap.

Anna Maria ready to 
coexist with coyotes

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Maria Yatros meets up with a coyote as she bicycles on the “secret sidewalk” that runs along the Gulf in Anna Maria. Islander Photo: Gy Yatros

Coexistence with coyotes is key, says Anna Maria public works manager Dean Jones.

Jones began researching the city’s options for handling coyotes in November 2018 and presented his findings Jan. 10 at a city meeting.

He said coyotes are part of the ecosystem and are here to stay.

Without a vote from city commissioners, this is the city’s stance on the issue.

Holmes Beach and Longboat Key officials also have decided not to act to remove coyotes.

Attempts to humanely remove or eradicate coyote populations have proven near impossible due to their adaptability, intelligence and the difficulty trapping the animals, according to Jones.

When a coyote population is diminished, coyotes breed to make up for any loss, producing larger litters. If a family is driven from its territory, other coyotes will fill the vacancy, according to Jones.

Jones likened coyotes to alligators, in that coexistence is possible when people are educated on how to live with the animals.

Jones said coyotes might keep the island’s rodent population in check, and observed that aggression toward humans is rare. Steps can be taken to ensure the safety of pets, he added.

“They’re beautiful animals,” Jones said. “You have to respect them for what they are and I think, going forward, we can all live in some type of symbiotic relationship.”

Suzi Fox, director of the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, joined the presentation at the meeting, saying Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials trained her and AMITW volunteers how to track coyotes to protect sea turtle and shorebird nests.

Fox said she has seen numerous coyote tracks on the beach that would not be a threat to sea turtle nests. She was unsure of whether coyotes pose a threat to shorebird nests, but assured people attending the meeting the nests would be protected.

“Don’t be scared for the wildlife out here,” Fox said. “People need to be cautious, but nesting beaches will be fine.”

Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer also attended the meeting, providing pamphlets on how to live and deal with coyotes.

“They’re here,” Tokajer said. “Don’t feed them. Do not feed any of the wildlife. That’s not our place, it’s their job to find their own food.”

People interested in learning more about coyotes can call the FWC Southwest Regional Office at 863-648-3200, or go online to myfwc.com/contact/fwc-staff/regional-offices.

People wishing to report aggressive animals can contact the FWC Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-3922.

Red tide threatens, tracking hindered by government shutdown

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A cell of Karenia brevis, the species responsible for red tide. Islander Photo: Courtesy Mote Marine Laboratory

The coming and going of red tide remains as much a mystery as Mother Nature.

No solutions have been found.

But the cause of people coughing and complaining of scratchy throats on the beaches of Anna Maria Island Jan. 4- 5 was no mystery — red tide was back.

“It’s the cough again,” Maria Steffens said by phone Jan. 5.

Steffens is night manager at the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe at the Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach.

“The other day I noticed that smell. Now there is no smell, only the dry, hacking cough again. I’ve been coughing since I got to work at 2 p.m.,” Steffens said. “I noticed it yesterday afternoon.”

Tiffany LaRocca reported similar conditions in Bradenton Beach at the Beach House Restaurant, 200 Gulf Drive N.

“It’s the itchy throat and the cough,” she told The Islander Jan. 5. “We enclosed the outside seating. At least there is no smell.”

Neither location reported seeing dead fish on the beach.

The federal government shutdown that began Dec. 22, 2018, cut off access to the University of South Florida’s topical oceanography lab, which provides data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

So researchers at Mote Marine Laboratory and other government agencies as of Jan. 7 were relying on first-hand observations and samples to determine red tide’s presence and make forecasts about the harmful algae bloom.

According to Mote, a boat captain reported coming across a dense patch of phytoplankton, took a sample and brought it to the Sarasota lab Jan 2.

The sample, found about 2 and l/2 miles off the Sarasota County coastline, contained high concentrations of Karenia brevis.

Meanwhile, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission concentration readings, which the previous week had been clear for Sarasota County, showed high concentrations of K. brevis near Siesta and Lido Keys.

FWC readings in Manatee County remained clear, with no red tide detected in daily samples or in the Jan. 2 midweek report.

Samples showed no K. brevis at Longboat Pass in Bradenton Beach, the Rod & Reel Pier in Anna Maria or the Palma Sola Bay Bridge on Manatee Avenue in Bradenton.

Mote’s daily reports on beach conditions showed no signs of red tide Jan. 4 at Coquina Beach or at Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach.

A late December storm, that brought 10-foot waves to the Southwest Florida coastline, apparently broke up part of the K. brevis bloom and swept some of the toxic algae far offshore.

Now, however, it appears red tide is creeping back to the coastline.

Coyote strolls Marina Drive

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A coyote saunters along Marina Drive near Key Royale Drive in Holmes Beach Dec. 30, 2018. Coyotes usually are active at night, but daytime sightings on the island have become more common since summer 2018. Rick Scherrer of Anna Maria spotted the coyote while on an afternoon bike ride. “We ride our bikes a lot and were really surprised to see that coyote just standing in the driveway in broad daylight,” Scherrer wrote Jan. 2 in an email to The Islander. “We have spotted him up at our end, but only late at night. He/she is mighty bold!” Islander Photo: Courtesy Rick Scherrer