Tag Archives: Wildlife

Turtle watch is seeing red 
this Fourth of July

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People and sea turtle nests line the beach June 25 near the Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Red, white and blue color the Fourth of July.

This summer, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring is asking people to set their phones to “red” if they are on the beach after dark.

The request is not for patriotism, but for sea turtle safety.

Suzi Fox, AMITW executive director, said before going onto the beach at night, people should go into the “settings” menu of their smartphones and change the display to red.

“All smartphones have the capability to do this,” she said. “Just Google it.”

See red, save turtles
AMITW asks people on the beach at night to change the settings on their smartphones to a red filter, so light from the screen will not interfere with wildlife, including nesting sea turtles.
On an iPhone, go to “settings,” then “accessibility,” then scroll to “display accommodations,” select “color filters” and click “on.” From there, a red color filter can be selected.
On an Android phone, select “settings,” then “display,” and click “night light” to filter out blue light and enhance the red light.
— ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Fox said June 25 there had been five adult sea turtle disorientations this sea turtle nesting season, which began May 1 and runs through Oct. 31.

In 2018, there was one such disorientation.

Female sea turtles, which mostly nest at night, only leave the water to nest on island beaches. So any distraction on land could lead to a false crawl — a failed nesting attempt.

Fox said one type of distraction is people using their cellphones on the beach at night to follow sea turtles for photos or video. They prevent mature females from laying eggs before returning to the Gulf of Mexico.

Tracks on the beach indicate that sea turtles are leaving the water and attempting to nest, but being distracted by human interference.

“You can tell from the tracks where someone has been walking alongside a turtle, either before or after nesting,” she said. “I documented a disorientation this morning where I could see the turtle walked 200 extra feet. That’s a lot of work for a turtle to put in.”

Fox said she understands the draw for people visiting the beach at night, but the shoreline is shared with wildlife.

Also, illegal fireworks are always a concern for turtle watch, but especially on the Fourth of July, when more people are on the beach at night.

Another concern is trash left on the beach and in over-flowing receptacles at beach accesses, which can draw predators that chase nesting birds and eat eggs. Turtle watch, in addition to monitoring sea turtle nesting, monitors nesting shorebirds.

Also, gear left on the beach overnight, including canopies, tents, chairs and rafts, can be hazardous to nesting sea turtles.

Obstructions on the beach can lead to a failed nesting attempt, injury or death by drowning if the sea turtle becomes trapped underneath a chair or drags it into the water.

Fox said many locals are familiar with best beach practices, but visitors may not know the rules.

So AMITW shares informational brochures, stickers and door hangers with island resorts and vacation rentals.

Shauna Ruby, general manager at Mainsail Beach Inn, 101 66th St., Holmes Beach, said the establishment provides guests with AMITW materials, as well as warnings against illegal fireworks — not just on holiday weekends but throughout nesting season.

“Families with kids often are very excited to learn about the sea turtles,” Ruby said June 25. “We do our best to make sure they are educated about how to treat the beach and its wildlife with respect.”

Fox said the educational partnership between AMITW, residents, visitors and businesses is key to conservation.

“It’s all about education,” she said. “Once people know the results their actions could cause, they usually want to do the best they can.”

Hammerhead presence in local waters turns heads

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A photo collage of an 11- to 12-foot hammerhead hark at the dock in Cortez. The shark was found in a net under the catch of bait, where it was unintentionally entangled and died. Islander Graphic: Bonner Joy
A hammerhead shark skims the shore at Bean Point in Anna Maria. Capt. Aaron Lowman caught the photo in 2016 while tarpon fishing.

They look prehistoric, with oddly shaped heads and protruding eyes.

They unnerve seasoned mariners.

They are hammerhead sharks.

As islanders settle into hot summer days on the coast of Florida, so do hammerhead sharks.

The warm coastal waters of Anna Maria Island and South Florida serve as nurseries for the sharks, which generally arrive around March and move on by July.

Locally, the sharks feast on tarpon and stingrays.

Memorial Day weekend, one hammerhead — estimated at more than 10 feet long — swam around a boat about 100 yards off the beach of Anna Maria Island.

Corrine Lough and her family had stopped the boat and were contemplating a swim in the shallow water off Bean Point on the north end of Anna Maria Island when she saw the hammerhead.

The family filmed and then posted a video of the encounter. A social media frenzy ensued.

Also, May 28, 27 miles to the south at Nokomis, lifeguards cleared the water for an hour after a hammerhead came close to the shoreline in the swim zone.

The following day, a group of boaters with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office spotted a hammerhead off Anclote Key near Tarpon Springs. Again the shark was seen in shallow water.

Last year, a father and son filmed a hammerhead trolling the beach near Bayfront Park in Anna Maria.

According to the International Shark Attack File, a global database, 17 people have been subject to unprovoked attacks by hammerheads in the genus Sphyrna, the type found along coastal waters, since 1580.

No human fatalities have ever been recorded from hammerhead bites according to the file, the world’s only scientifically documented, comprehensive database of all known shark attacks.

Robert Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, suggested people remember one rule: Don’t get between a shark — or any predator for that matter — and its food.

Some additional rules to stay safe:

  • Don’t swim at night and don’t swim in murky waters.

Pay attention to surroundings.

  • Don’t swim where people are fishing. You might get mistaken for bait.
  • Don’t swim among large schools of fish. Predators might be feeding.
  • Avoid brightly colored bathing suits, especially neon yellow and green. Sharks can see these colors from long distances.
  • Avoid wearing jewelry while swimming. Sunlight glinting off metal can look like scales on baitfish to predators.

Hammerheads sometimes congregate by the hundreds but tend to hunt solitarily.

Today’s odd-looking model of the hammerhead had an ancestor that likely appeared some 20 million years ago, according to livescience.com, a science news website.

So if you see one swimming off Anna Maria Island this summer, remember the hammerheads were here first.

And enjoy the show.

Turtle trackers discuss disrupted sea turtle nesting

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The first green sea turtle tracks of the 2019 nesting season are found June 3 at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW/Suzi Fox
Curled loggerhead tracks June 3 indicate a false crawl at Manatee Public Beach. “A false crawl is where a turtle comes onto the nesting beach and does not nest,” says Suzi Fox, executive director of AMITW. “People need to stay 100 feet away and stay silent if they come onto a nesting sea turtle.” Islander Photo: Courtesy Suzi Fox
Luciano Soares, research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, left, Suzi Fox, executive director of AMITW, and Skip Coyne, environmental director of AMITW, gather June 6 at CrossPointe Fellowship in Holmes Beach to discuss sea turtle nesting season. Soares presented facts and nesting information during the Turtle Talks program. Islander Photo: Brook Morrison
Luciano Soares, research scientist with the FWC, answers questions about loggerheads and green sea turtles during the weekly Turtle Talk June 6 at CrossPointe Fellowship in Holmes Beach. Islander Photo: Brook Morrison

By Brook Morrison

Islander Reporter

Don’t be an intruder.

This could be a banner season for sea turtle nesting in Florida, but the need to educate people intruding on sea turtles remains paramount.

“I think what’s happening is people are running after them with their phones” to take photos or video, Suzi Fox, executive director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring said June 6 before the most recent Turtle Talk series at CrossPointe Fellowship in Holmes Beach. “People need to stay 100 feet away and stay silent if they come onto a nesting turtle.”

Fox said turtle watch volunteers spotted a number of false crawls from the Manatee Public Beach southward to 26th Street in Holmes Beach. False crawls are when a sea turtle comes onto a nesting beach but aborts nesting.

“I consulted with FWC staff and we concur that this is only caused by people walking up to turtles on the beach at night,” Fox said.

Only females come ashore, and only to nest. It is strange territory to the sea turtles and distractions can easily send them retreating, back to the Gulf of Mexico.

Also speaking at the Turtle Talk June 6 was Luciano Soares, a research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. He suggested AMITW identify hot spots where nesting false crawls occur and take action from there.

Early sea turtle nesting ‘spotty’ on Anna Maria Island

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A sea turtle nest sits May 27 on the beach near 46th Street in Holmes Beach, surrounded by Memorial Day beachgoers. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
One of two snowy plovers documented on Anna Maria Island sits with its chick May 29 on the shore in north Holmes Beach. The birds, designated as threatened in the state, are monitored locally by Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring. The nest, spotted April 27, contained three eggs that hatched May 29. Even though laid several days apart, eggs in a plover nest hatch the same day, so the chicks can be protected and by their parents, according to AMITW executive director Suzi Fox. Islander Photo: Courtesy Brenda Twiss

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start for summer on Anna Maria Island.

This year, as with other holiday weekends on the island, revelers packed the beach May 27.

During the spring and summer months, visitors to island beaches must share the shoreline with nesting shorebirds and sea turtles.

Sharing the space involves cleaning up trash, filling in holes in the sand and removing beach gear, including chairs, canopies, games and inflatables at the end of the day, according to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director Suzi Fox.

“People were pretty good this year with cleaning up their stuff,” Fox said May 29 of the holiday weekend. “There was trash at the usual spots, like the public beaches, but our bigger concern appears to be people on the beach at night.”

Fox said nesting was “spotty” in the first month of sea turtle nesting season, which started May 1 and continues through Oct. 31.

Female sea turtles only come ashore to nest, so any objects — including people — in their path can distract them and lead to a failed nesting attempt — a false crawl.

Flashlights and cellphone lights from people walking the beach at night also can be distracting for sea turtles.

As of June 2, there were 104 loggerhead nests and 143 false crawls on the island, compared with 105 nests and 126 false crawls on the same day in 2018.

Fox said tracks on the beach, which is how AMITW volunteers spot nests and mark them off for protection, indicate that some sea turtles are crawling ashore then angling north or south along the beach before returning to the Gulf without laying a clutch of eggs in the sand.

Fox said a turtle moving away from people on the beach could cause the diagonal tracks.

“We understand that people are excited to see the sea turtles,” Fox said. “But they need to keep back at least 50 feet and let the turtles do their job.”

In 2018, AMITW broke its record for loggerhead nests with 534 nests by the end of the season. Fox is hopeful this will be another record-breaker for island sea turtles.

“Things are moving a little slow right now, but that could all change as the weather warms up,” Fox said. “Even with a slow start, nesting could pick up any day now, and we could very well break another record.”


Resources for sea turtle nesting season

To report unattended property or large holes on the beach, call code enforcement:

  • Anna Maria, 941-708-6130, ext. 139 or 129.
  • Bradenton Beach, 941-778-1005, ext. 280.
  • Holmes Beach, 941-708-5800, ext. 247.

To read about turtle-friendly lighting, visit:

  • myfwc.com/seaturtle and click on “Sea Turtles and Lights.”

To report sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtles, call:

  • FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline, 1-888-404-3922, #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone or text Tip@MyFWC.com.

To reach Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, contact executive director Suzi Fox:

  • 941-778-5638 or suzifox@gmail.com.

To learn more about sea turtles and conservation around the world, visit Sea Turtle Conservancy: conserveturtles.org.

Brown algae recedes, waters clear

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Lyngbya wollei algae floats May 16 alongside the fishing docks in Sarasota Bay at 119th Street West in Cortez. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

Local waters were a sparkling blue turquoise May 23 as beachgoers frolicked in the Gulf of Mexico.

At Robinson Preserve, kayakers made their way though mangroves and, on Palma Sola Bay, buzzing personal watercraft interrupted the afternoon naps.

Waters continued to clear around Anna Maria Island after a short-lived batch of “gumbo” brown algae invaded the bayfront in April and May. The lumps of filamentous cyanobacteria the Florida Department of Environmental Protection identified as Lyngbya wollei still appeared in spots but, for the most part, had dissipated or dropped to the bay bottom.

Also, the rotten egg odor that had hung over Kingfish Boat Ramp and other areas was gone.

Testing May 20 by the DEP found the algae in small quantities at Palma Sola Bay and in Holmes Beach, but no toxins were found and, the online DEP sampling map said, “No blooms observed.”

Samples taken May 9 on the north end of Anna Maria showed similar results. No further testing has occurred in Anna Maria.

The DEP website pointed out the thick matted algae is not the same as the blue-green cyanabacteria that fouled Lake Okeechobee and south Florida rivers last summers.

Though no toxins were associated with the “gumbo,” officials continue to recommend people stay out of water containing brown algae. The DEP cited possible rash or skin irritations on contacting the bloom.

To follow locations of Florida HABs — harmful algal blooms — go online to floridadep.gov and click on algae information. People also may report blooms at the website or by calling the DEP hotline, 855-305-3903.

So far, so good on red tide, too

Gulf and bay waters around Anna Maria Island remained clear of red tide — and throughout the Southwest Florida coastline at press time.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission monitors red tide levels weekly. Samples pulled May 20 from the waters near the Rod & Reel Pier in Anna Maria and inland from Palma Sola Bay in northwest Bradenton showed no red tide.

A sample from Longboat Pass taken May 21 also showed no red tide.

The FWC posts the most current eight days of sampling from across Florida at myfwc.com.

Red tide is the common name for a bloom of Karenia brevis, an aquatic microorganism. In large concentrations, red tide can sicken or kill sea life and marine mammals, and cause respiratory issues for humans and animals.

FWC, Mote rescue ailing juvenile manatee found in Holmes Beach basin

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FWC and Mote corral an ailing juvenile manatee in the basin at the Waterline Marina, Holmes Beach, load it on an FWC manatee rescue boat and whisk it to Tampa Zoo for evaluation and treatment. Islander Photos: Gillian Kendall
A FWC manatee rescue team and representatives from Mote load and prepare a juvenile manatee May 17 on the FWC boat for transport to Tampa.

By Gillian Kendall, Special to The Islander

A juvenile manatee in distress was rescued May 17 from the basin on Marina Drive in Holmes Beach.

The ailing marine mammal had been spotted by Steve Ryan of Cincinnati, a guest at the Waterline Marina, Resort and Beach Club, 5325 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach.

Ryan went to the hotel reception desk for help, where supervisor Giselle Brock phoned the hotline for Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.

Brock passed her phone to another employee, an engineer, who went outdoors to keep track of the animal’s location. “Danny has the kindest heart,” Brock said. “I knew he would help.”

Among the docks in the marina, a small crowd gathered, watching for air bubbles. The manatee was alive, but barely moving, it’s head surfacing only occasionally to breathe.

Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg, Andy Garrett, manatee rescue coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, had been getting calls and texts. “We were hearing about a small, lethargic animal with a weird lesion, which didn’t seem to be acting right. We got photos and we agreed it was emaciated.”

Garrett gathered a team for the rescue.

“We had seven FWC people there and three from Mote got there, too. When we got there, we split up. Two guys, a volunteer named Tim and one of our biologists, Sean Tennant, went in the water,” Garrett said.

The two men stood chest-deep in the murky brown water as the team put a large net with floats in the water. “We looped some net out away from the boat slip and had the two swimmers kind of corral it into the net,” said Garrett. “They just gently encouraged it to go where we wanted it to go.”

Within a few minutes, the net surrounding the manatee was hauled in gently but rapidly, allowing the manatee to be lifted aboard the FWC boat, which then quickly departed.

Onboard, a worker poured buckets of water over the manatee to protect its skin and encourage it to breathe, Garrett said.

They young manatee was on its way to get help.

Despite the team’s best efforts, Garrett said he could not predict the eventual outcome. “I don’t know what’s going on with that manatee; it’s in bad shape. It’s about a six-and-a-half-foot male, probably a few years old at most.

“It had some other lesions. In one area it looked like the top layer of skin was missing; it has a weird, almost cut look to it. I didn’t get a whole lot of time to look at it. We got going as soon as we got the animal back in our boat.”

After they landed the boat, they took the manatee to Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park in Tampa.

Garrett said it looked as if a layer of skin was missing. “If it was a disease you’d expect the edges to be necrotic, but this was so clean-cut. We’re hopeful Zoo Tampa can figure out what’s going on.”

At Zoo Tampa, Garrett said, the staff will draw blood and look for infections. “If it’s underweight, which this one seems to be, they may try to hydrate it with fluids and give it some antibiotics.”

The overall goal, he said, is to rehab the manatee to go back out where it was found.

Garrett said his team handles about 100 stranded manatees a year. The calls for help are irregular and come from all over the state.

“We can go weeks without anything happening, or sometimes it’s more frequent.”

Once an animal is identified as requiring assistance, Garrett said, “we want to make sure we have a safe plan — it can be dangerous.” Manatees can weigh more than 1,000 pounds.

“Human safety comes first, and then the animal safety is very important as well. This rescue was a lot safer because the animal was small and thin and not likely to give us trouble,” he said.

“We rely on the public to let us know about animals in distress,” Garrett said. “We get a lot of calls at the FWC hotline, 888-404-3922, 24 hours a day.”

Cortez stone crab season — one of the worst

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On the Cortez waterfront at 119th Street May 16, idle boats hold traps, ropes, buoys and other crabbing gear — a day after the annual stone crab season came to a close in Florida. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
Idle stone crab traps are stored May 16 alongside the 119th Street docks following the end of the 2018-19 season.

The 2018-19 stone crab season was one of the worst in Florida history and “a lot of it is due to the red tide.”

That was Fish and Wildlife Research Institute researcher Ryan Gandy’s assessment May 16.

The research arm for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the FWRI, among other researchers and fishers, placed blame on the toxicity of red tide and the stranglehold of low oxygen in the water that resulted from high concentrations of Karenia brevis.

The stone crab fishery closed for the season May 16. FWC limits the season to five months annually to sustain the fishery. It will reopen Oct. 15.

“Most fisherman stopped by the first of the year,” Gandy said about the stone crab harvest.

“There were no crabs to be caught from the mouth of Tampa Bay to Marco Island,” he added.

John Banyas, who owns the Swordfish Grill & Tiki Bar, N.E. Taylor Boatworks and the Cortez Bait & Seafood market in Cortez, is licensed for about 2,500 crab traps, but didn’t put them all out after testing and suspecting a bad year.

No crabs found along local shore

Paul Moore, who, with Banyas, prepares, checks and harvests the stone crab claws from the traps set in the Gulf of Mexico, agreed with Gandy’s assessment in a May 15 interview with The Islander.

“There was nothing off our local shore,” said Moore, who started crabbing 39 years ago with his father, fishing between St. Pete and Boca Grande for the now-defunct family business, Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant on Longboat Key.

Different this season, he said, was the lack of stone crabs in local waters.

Moore spoke to others in Sarasota, Venice and Fort Myers, he said, who faced similar issues.

“Anywhere red tide went, the crabs were driven away,” he added.

For Moore and Banyas, supplying the Cortez restaurant and market meant additional time and cost, setting traps and harvesting claws mostly north of John’s

Pass and Tarpon Springs and traveling long distances to recover traps disbursed by storms.

“Earlier in the season, we did catch good crab up there,” he said, but that meant a lot of travel, more fuel and expense.

K. brevis events

At Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Phil Gravinese studies the plight of stone crab with experiments in tanks, as well as from a dock in Sarasota Bay at Mote.

A year ago, Gravinese said the fishery is cyclical, declining overall since 2000. At the time, he cited a variety of possible causes — environmental changes, hurricanes, overfishing since 1996 and an influx of octopi, the stone crab’s archenemy.

In April, Gravinese and other researchers at Mote published “Karenia brevis causes high mortality and impaired swimming behavior of Florida stone crab larvae” in the journal of Harmful Algae.

The study referenced FWC data showing a 63% drop in landings — from 322,807 pounds in 2015 to 118,079 pounds in 2018 — and concludes high concentrations of red tide caused stone crab larvae to die, interfered with the reproductive cycle and reduces the fishery for two-three years.

The study also concluded that larvae can’t swim away from highly toxic blooms with K. brevis concentrations of more than 1 million cells per liter.

Mote found larvae would die within 48 hours in high concentrations of K. brevis — and noted more than 90 million cells per liter were found at the height of red tide in Sarasota.

“On this coastline, the research suggests the decline in stone crab resiliency because red tide is recurring over the years,” Gravinese said in a May 16 interview with The Islander.

Coastal degradation and nutrient accumulation degrade water quality, “potentially exacerbating K. brevis events,” according to the Mote study.

Landings and test lines

In his position at FWRI, Gandy monitors stone crab test lines throughout the state and records landings and market values for the FWC.
Gravinese and Gandy work together, share data and conclusions.

Based on early landings reports, Gandy projected there would be less than 2 million pounds of stone crab claws — only claws 2 3/4 or larger can be legally harvested — 700,000 pounds lower than the average year. And while the market values must be reported, Gandy said he doesn’t project them.

“I don’t think the statewide decline can be attributed to red tide,” Gravinese said about Gandy’s projections, adding the reason is likely due to fishery management.

Gandy equivocates. “We cannot say for certain the red tide impacted the statewide catch of stone crab this season. Some areas had good catch and other moderate catch,” he said.

Over the past 20 years, the state has experienced lower landing years independent of red tide.

Asked whether FWC is considering changes in stone crab regulations — such as shorter seasons or stricter restrictions — Gandy said no. While the FWC changes its rules from time to time, he didn’t see any coming.

Looking to the future

The Mote and FWC/FWRI studies also point to a few bright spots.

Larvae exposed to low concentrations of red tide were unaffected, according to Gravinese.

“Animals don’t seem to show negative impacts in low concentrations of red tide,” he said.

Mitigation efforts — such as canal ozonation and clay seeding being researched by Mote — also provide hope for stone crab larvae at medium concentrations of K. brevis, Gravinese added.

The FWC started test lines in 1988 with traps in the Tampa Bay area, including a line off the north end of Anna Maria Island, and added lines in southwest Florida in 2005 and the Big Bend region in January 2006.

A Pine Island/Boca Grande test line was installed in August 2018 after the red tide intensified.

The FWC worked with Pine Island fishers to set lines of 20 traps offshore to gauge the impact of red tide on the stone crab population, with traps in varying depths in mid-August. The data collection ended in October.

“Red tide clearly impacted the stone crab fishery from Manatee through Lee counties this season,” including a stone crab die off near Pine and Sanibel islands, Gandy said of the results.

“We had the hurricane in 2017 and red tide this year,” he added, and called it a “tough couple years,” from which the fishery can “hopefully” bounce back.

Brown algae interrupts environmental respite

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Capt. Scott Moore shot this photo of a blanket of brown algae floating in Anna Maria Sound May 17 just north of the Anna Maria Island Bridge and Manatee Avenue.
Lyngbya wollei algae floats alongside the fishing docks May 16 at 119th Street West in Cortez. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

“The scientists can talk, but they are not out here on the water 200 days a year. It’s the worst brown drift algae I’ve ever seen here.”

So says Capt. Scott Moore, who has been fishing Sarasota Bay and the waters of Anna Maria Island for almost 40 years. He knows what should and should not be here.

According to Moore, Lyngbya wollei, the scientific name for the brown algae, is rare in such large concentrations.

“We get this brown drift every spring — some call it gumbo — but not like this. It’s common in small doses,” Moore told The Islander May 17. “But this has been horrific.”

Moore has his theory on the algae: nutrients.

He pointed to all the dead sea life that sank and decomposed in the Gulf of Mexico and the bays during the red tide of 2018.

“It all just ferments at the bottom, makes all those nutrients as it decomposes and then feeds algae, such as the brown drift, and we get this huge bloom that rises,” Moore said. “Eventually, it all sinks again, but not before the smell, and it can take the oxygen levels in canals down to zero.”

Larry Brand, a professor of marine biology and ecology at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami, is an expert on red tide, but he hasn’t really weighed in with much concern for the recent brown drift that first became apparent near Fort Myers.

“My colleagues identified it. It first started appearing down around Lemon Bay and Cape Coral. Excess nutrients are what causes HABs — harmful algal blooms — and this is another one,” Brand told The Islander May 15.

“There are hundreds of algae constantly competing for nutrients. Sometimes the toxic algae, such as red tide, win out, and we have a big bloom like the one that just passed. Other times, the non-toxic algae dominate, and we don’t even notice them,” Brand said.

Brand said he is not aware of any massive spill or other event that might have dumped a large quantity of nutrients into Southwest Florida waters.

“People don’t want to come in contact with this algae,” he said. “Eventually, it produces gas bubbles and sinks back down. It’s the surface winds that move it around.”

Fran Derr and her neighbors in the Key Royale community of Holmes Beach were happy the algae there had begun to dissipate.

“We have a group of neighbors that walk,” Derr said, and they called attention to the HAB. “The smell was horrendous for a few days, but it seems to have cleared out,” she reported May 16.

Kelly Richmond, communications lead for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said the brown algae is a brackish water type and that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection began testing samples May 9 in Holmes Beach. The DEP had earlier identified the bloom as Lyngbya wollei, a cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, that can cause skin irritations, damage beaches and impair habitats.

The good news on the drifting brown gumbo?

Moore says it will disappear.

“It always comes in the spring. By mid-summer, it’s gone historically,” he said.

More about red tide

Locals still recovering from the effects of the red tide bloom the stretched into January 2019, are hopeful there won’t be a repeat.

The effects of red tide first appeared on Anna Maria Island in August 2018 and eventually stretched as far north as the Florida Panhandle before it subsided.

FWC samples turned up very low concentrations of red tide — less than 10,000 parts per liter — May 13 during routine testing at the Coquina Boat Ramp in Bradenton Beach.

At such low concentrations, red tide is not apparent in the water — no dead fish and no human irritation.

The low-level algae report was the only positive sampling along the Southwest Florida coastline at press time May 20.

Brand said there is no way to predict red tide. He maintains development of another red tide bloom is tied to ocean currents.

“If the loop current in the Gulf of Mexico is in the southern position, historical data shows no red tide occurring. On the other hand, if its farther north, it’s a better chance,” Brand said.

For now, Moore continues to take anglers to fish in the waters surrounding Anna Maria Island and hopes officials will take measures to help stop growth of red tide and brown algae.

“It’s been proven aerators work to help stop algae. The bubbles mess with the algae growth. Aeration systems installed at the mouths of our canals could help keep algae out of our waterways and improve the overall health of our waters,” Moore said.

DEP weighs in on brown algae

In an email from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Dee Ann Miller included information about brown algae, which was recently observed in Manatee County waters:

“The cyanobacteria sampled in Manatee County are found worldwide and are a natural part of our freshwater, brackish and marine environments in Florida.”

The email said algae typically increases in the spring and summer months, when water temperatures and daylight hours increase.

They are photosynthetic organisms and, like plants, convert sunlight into energy, using nutrients from their environment.

Higher levels of nutrients can lead to higher levels of growth. As it floats and begins to decay, the alga can emit a foul, rotten egg odor from the production of gas and organic breakdown.

The DEP advises people to avoid contact with algae and stay out of the water if a bloom is visible.

However, not all alga is harmful to humans or marine life.

People are encouraged to report blooms to the DEP hotline at 1-855-305-3903 or online at floridadep.gov/dear/algal-bloom.

Brown ‘gumbo’ algae invades island

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Another bout of brown algae returns to Key Royale Drive May 6 at 65th Street in Holmes Beach. Islander Photo: Christine Wright
Brown algae blankets the Key Royale canal at 65th Street during the last week of March and first week of May. Islander Photo: Christine Wright
A closeup May 9 shows the fiberous sheath of oblong-shaped algae at 66th Street. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

“People call it gumbo,” Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth said May 9.

At the end of April and beginning of May, pad-like algal blooms pushed into waters around Anna Maria Island, hung around for about a week and receded.

But then the unwanted visitor came back strong and stinky.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection began testing May 9 in Holmes Beach to determine the toxicity of the large brownish oblong algae mats.

The DEP collected samples from two Holmes Beach locations — bayside at 26th Street and the canal north of Westbay Point & Moorings, 6500 Flotilla Drive.

Also May 9, DEP spokeswoman Weesam Khoury would not speculate on why the bloom was occurring and did not know when testing results would be made available.

The samples will be analyzed in Tallahassee for toxicity and algal type.

Similar testing from Lake Okeechobee, along the Calaloosahatchee River to Fort Myers, has been performed in the past month. And, in places, whitish mold has grown on the brown pads.

As to why sites were chosen, she said there were several reports from Charlotte County to Manatee County that prompted testing for six types of “microcystins,” including toxic cyanobacteria, known as the blue-green algae, and three other toxins.

“Residents and visitors are always advised to avoid coming into contact with algae and to stay out of the water where a visible bloom is present,” Khoury said in a May 9 email, adding the DEP will monitor and retest persistent blooms.

In Sarasota County, the DEP identified Lyngbya wollei, a large diameter cyanobacteria with the same thick sheath and dense mats, according to Stephannie Kettle, of Mote Marine Laboratory.

Lyngbya nuisance blooms are known to degrade water quality, damage beaches and shorelines, cause skin irritation, reduce biodiversity and impair habitat and food webs. “Mote doesn’t work with this type of algae,” Kettle said.

Mote, as well as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, research and monitor another algae, Karenia brevis, also known as red tide, which pushed into southwest Florida in high concentrations between August 2017 and January 2019, causing massive fish kills and deaths of manatees, dolphins and other marine animals and birds in the hundreds.

The current algae is not red tide.

Also testing the water in May was the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, a branch of the FWC.

Spokeswoman Kelly Richmond said volunteers sampled locations at the Rod & Reel Pier May 6 and School Key, known as Key Royale, May 1.

Results from the FWRI testing showed no harmful algal blooms, she said. Volunteers will continue sampling the water and may add other test locations.

Although the stench improved and no HABs were identified on Anna Maria Island the second week of May, some people living near the algal blooms expressed their disgust.

“Last week, after it sat in the sun, it was really strong. Like sewage. Even inside our house,” Holmes Beach resident Christine Wright said May 9.

Titsworth agreed, “People are hating it.”

She has asked Barney Salmon, the city director of development services, to research the outbreak.

“I firmly believe it comes from too much nutrients,” the mayor said, adding “It happens a lot.”

Reporting blooms

The DEP encourages the reporting of alga blooms to its hotline at 855-305-3903 or online.