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BlogBreaking NewsIn Hurricane Ian’s wake, SWFL waters hit with intensifying red tide blooms

November 16, 2022
https://i1.wp.com/captainsforcleanwater.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/redtide_2022_aerial10.jpg?fit=1200%2C675&ssl=1

Red tide, fish kills, and respiratory irritation reported in southwest Florida’s Sarasota, Charlotte, and Lee counties.

Our fears following Hurricane Ian are flaring up. Red Tide is intensifying on the Gulf Coast and fish kills are spreading. Now, with high-volume Lake Okeechobee discharges a looming possibility, we’re working hard to prevent them from becoming a disastrous reality.

Although avoiding this current situation was largely outside of any human management control (two recent hurricanes likely set this stage), actions CAN be taken going forward by water managers to avoid fueling the fire. Specifically, the Army Corps of Engineers—who manages Lake Okeechobee—can refrain from releasing nutrient-loaded, high-volume discharges from the lake while red tide is prevalent in our coastal waters, as doing so would only make matters worse.

That’s why we’re combining efforts with our partners at Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) to encourage and advise the Army Corps to hold back on such releases until red tide is no longer a threat. Together, we sent this formal letter to the Corps and we’re working on providing additional red tide sampling data for the Corps to use in their decision making.

https://i1.wp.com/captainsforcleanwater.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Screen-Shot-2022-11-16-at-3.49.21-PM.jpg?fit=1096%2C1282&ssl=1
How did we get here?

When Hurricane Ian stormed through in late September, it created intense upwellings offshore in the Gulf of Mexico that likely brought ever-present red tide and nutrients from the sea floor up to the surface. Blooms started forming offshore from Sarasota down to Sanibel.

As the storm surge and record flooding from the hurricane receded back into the waterways, it also added an immense amount of nutrients (food for red tide) into the system, and the blooms grew.

Then Hurricane Nicole moved through a month later, bringing strong onshore wave action. Those onshore waves pushed the blooms inshore and likely ruptured the individual red tide cells (Karenia brevis), which releases the cell’s brevetoxin, amplifies the resulting fish kills, and intensifies respiratory irritation in humans.

Now, we’re seeing red tide all along southwest Florida and getting on-water reports of dead marine life.

https://i1.wp.com/captainsforcleanwater.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/8B1E4F4A-BAE7-433B-A88D-789B6637F030-e1668616514679.jpg?fit=843%2C963&ssl=1
What is Captains For Clean Water doing about it?

What we’ve seen up to this point has not been a result of releases from Lake Okeechobee, as is sometimes the case. However, with the amount of rainfall Nicole added to the system, Lake O is now elevated, and water managers are being forced to consider significant releases from the lake.

If those releases are at large volumes, the added nutrients from the lake water would influence and intensify the situation further. It would be like dumping gas on a forest fire. Based on recent research by SCCF and the University of Florida’s Center for Coastal Solutions, there is evidence that suggests excess nutrients in Lake Okeechobee discharges can be a factor in intensifying existing red tide blooms.

That’s why we’re insisting that the Army Corps refrains from harmful lake discharges while the red tide is present.

https://i0.wp.com/captainsforcleanwater.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/High-volume-discharges-from-Lake-O-devastate-Floridas-coasts.jpg?fit=1200%2C797&ssl=1

As they make their decisions, we’re urging them to consider the forecasted drier-than-normal La Niña winter season ahead, which will help bring lake levels down through evapotranspiration. We’re asking them not to rush with their next steps.

In coordination with our partners at SCCF, we’re taking the following measures to prevent harmful discharges:

  1. In a joint letter with SCCF, we formally requested that the Army Corps withhold harmful lake releases while red tide is present in the Gulf of Mexico and Pine Island Sound. Refraining from such releases is the most important thing that can be done to mitigate the red tide situation at this point.
  2. Utilizing our network of fishing guides and guide relief funding generating by our generous supporters following Hurricane Ian, we’re connecting guides with scientists at SCCF to collect additional red tide sampling in the area. The data from that sampling is intended to be used to help populate the FWC’s red tide tracker. This is critical because the Army Corps relies on the FWC red tide reporting in their decision-making process, so we’re helping get SCCF out on the water to collect and report supplemental data to help paint a more comprehensive picture of the overall red tide situation in the area. This will ensure there are no gaps in the data and help the Army Corps better understand the severity of the situation.
What can I do to help the situation?

To use your voice right now, you can submit your own pre-written email here to the Army Corps encouraging them not to conduct damaging discharges while red tide is present.

But looking at the bigger picture, this is an example of why we need to keep momentum and expedite progress on Everglades restoration projects. When we complete key restoration projects—like the EAA Reservoir—that help store and send more water south, it will give us a larger buffer on the lake that reduces the need to resort to damaging discharges.

Unfortunately, lake operations alone can only provide so much relief—they can’t solve the entire problem. Better lake operations are critical, but we also need better infrastructure to realize full-scale benefits and mitigate these situations in the future.

https://i0.wp.com/captainsforcleanwater.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/60-e1668617328123.jpg?fit=1200%2C675&ssl=1

Even though the new lake operations plan (LOSOM) will be much better than the current one, and even though the lake was managed very equitably this past year and summer, we still find ourselves in this situation with red tide flaring up and water managers being forced to consider high-volume discharges on top of them.

Under a restored Everglades with improved infrastructure and added capacity, there’s a good chance they wouldn’t be forced to make such considerations.

That’s why we have to keep the pressure on progress. Everglades restoration is a multi-decade effort, and there are still years of work ahead. So, we need people like you to stay involved and get others involved too. The more people involved, the more pressure and power we create collectively to continue progress.

To learn more about red tide, check out these helpful resources by SCCF.

Red tide, fish kills, and respiratory irritation reported in southwest Florida’s Sarasota, Charlotte, and Lee counties.

Our fears following Hurricane Ian are flaring up. Red Tide is intensifying on the Gulf Coast and fish kills are spreading. Now, with high-volume Lake Okeechobee discharges a looming possibility, we’re working hard to prevent them from becoming a disastrous reality.

Although avoiding this current situation was largely outside of any human management control (two recent hurricanes likely set this stage), actions CAN be taken going forward by water managers to avoid fueling the fire. Specifically, the Army Corps of Engineers—who manages Lake Okeechobee—can refrain from releasing nutrient-loaded, high-volume discharges from the lake while red tide is prevalent in our coastal waters, as doing so would only make matters worse.

That’s why we’re combining efforts with our partners at Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) to encourage and advise the Army Corps to hold back on such releases until red tide is no longer a threat. Together, we sent this formal letter to the Corps and we’re working on providing additional red tide sampling data for the Corps to use in their decision making.

https://i1.wp.com/captainsforcleanwater.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Screen-Shot-2022-11-16-at-3.49.21-PM.jpg?fit=1096%2C1282&ssl=1
How did we get here?

When Hurricane Ian stormed through in late September, it created intense upwellings offshore in the Gulf of Mexico that likely brought ever-present red tide and nutrients from the sea floor up to the surface. Blooms started forming offshore from Sarasota down to Sanibel.

As the storm surge and record flooding from the hurricane receded back into the waterways, it also added an immense amount of nutrients (food for red tide) into the system, and the blooms grew.

Then Hurricane Nicole moved through a month later, bringing strong onshore wave action. Those onshore waves pushed the blooms inshore and likely ruptured the individual red tide cells (Karenia brevis), which releases the cell’s brevetoxin, amplifies the resulting fish kills, and intensifies respiratory irritation in humans.

Now, we’re seeing red tide all along southwest Florida and getting on-water reports of dead marine life.

https://i1.wp.com/captainsforcleanwater.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/8B1E4F4A-BAE7-433B-A88D-789B6637F030-e1668616514679.jpg?fit=843%2C963&ssl=1
What is Captains For Clean Water doing about it?

What we’ve seen up to this point has not been a result of releases from Lake Okeechobee, as is sometimes the case. However, with the amount of rainfall Nicole added to the system, Lake O is now elevated, and water managers are being forced to consider significant releases from the lake.

If those releases are at large volumes, the added nutrients from the lake water would influence and intensify the situation further. It would be like dumping gas on a forest fire. Based on recent research by SCCF and the University of Florida’s Center for Coastal Solutions, there is evidence that suggests excess nutrients in Lake Okeechobee discharges can be a factor in intensifying existing red tide blooms.

That’s why we’re insisting that the Army Corps refrains from harmful lake discharges while the red tide is present.

https://i0.wp.com/captainsforcleanwater.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/High-volume-discharges-from-Lake-O-devastate-Floridas-coasts.jpg?fit=1200%2C797&ssl=1

As they make their decisions, we’re urging them to consider the forecasted drier-than-normal La Niña winter season ahead, which will help bring lake levels down through evapotranspiration. We’re asking them not to rush with their next steps.

In coordination with our partners at SCCF, we’re taking the following measures to prevent harmful discharges:

  1. In a joint letter with SCCF, we formally requested that the Army Corps withhold harmful lake releases while red tide is present in the Gulf of Mexico and Pine Island Sound. Refraining from such releases is the most important thing that can be done to mitigate the red tide situation at this point.
  2. Utilizing our network of fishing guides and guide relief funding generating by our generous supporters following Hurricane Ian, we’re connecting guides with scientists at SCCF to collect additional red tide sampling in the area. The data from that sampling is intended to be used to help populate the FWC’s red tide tracker. This is critical because the Army Corps relies on the FWC red tide reporting in their decision-making process, so we’re helping get SCCF out on the water to collect and report supplemental data to help paint a more comprehensive picture of the overall red tide situation in the area. This will ensure there are no gaps in the data and help the Army Corps better understand the severity of the situation.
What can I do to help the situation?

To use your voice right now, you can submit your own pre-written email here to the Army Corps encouraging them not to conduct damaging discharges while red tide is present.

But looking at the bigger picture, this is an example of why we need to keep momentum and expedite progress on Everglades restoration projects. When we complete key restoration projects—like the EAA Reservoir—that help store and send more water south, it will give us a larger buffer on the lake that reduces the need to resort to damaging discharges.

Unfortunately, lake operations alone can only provide so much relief—they can’t solve the entire problem. Better lake operations are critical, but we also need better infrastructure to realize full-scale benefits and mitigate these situations in the future.

https://i0.wp.com/captainsforcleanwater.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/60-e1668617328123.jpg?fit=1200%2C675&ssl=1

Even though the new lake operations plan (LOSOM) will be much better than the current one, and even though the lake was managed very equitably this past year and summer, we still find ourselves in this situation with red tide flaring up and water managers being forced to consider high-volume discharges on top of them.

Under a restored Everglades with improved infrastructure and added capacity, there’s a good chance they wouldn’t be forced to make such considerations.

That’s why we have to keep the pressure on progress. Everglades restoration is a multi-decade effort, and there are still years of work ahead. So, we need people like you to stay involved and get others involved too. The more people involved, the more pressure and power we create collectively to continue progress.

To learn more about red tide, check out these helpful resources by SCCF.