Southwest FloridaRed Tide Conditions


Red tide is intensifying along the gulf coast, blue-green algae is already flaring up, and Lake Okeechobee is higher than it should be for this time of year.

... but what does it all mean?

First of all...


Karenia brevis is a single-celled organism belonging to a group of algae called dinoflagellates. Large concentrations of this organism, called blooms or ‘red tides,’ can discolor water red to brown, giving it the colloquial name. Karenia brevis occurs in marine and estuarine waters of Florida and typically blooms in the late summer or early fall. Blooms develop offshore and are brought inshore by currents and winds, usually in bottom waters.

Source: SCCF

But more importantly...


What we’re seeing unseasonably this spring was kickstarted by last fall’s hurricanes, which brought red tide and nutrients from the ocean floor into nearshore waters. Those red tide blooms have lingered since October, feeding on excess nutrients that storm floodwaters and other land-based sources polluted into our waters.

All signs point to...


There’s no crystal ball for this, but with Lake Okeechobee much higher than it should be at this time of year, our concern as we look towards rainy season is the increased chance of high-volume, damaging discharges reaching the coasts. That would be like adding fuel to the fire, as it’s scientifically known that those unnatural discharges can exacerbate red tide blooms and deliver toxic blue-green algae to both coasts. We saw a similar pattern following 2017’s hurricane season which lead us into the unfortunate water crisis of 2018.

Everyone keeps asking...


The long-term solution to reduce the harmful discharges and stop compounding the issue is Everglades restoration. Through critical infrastructure projects like the EAA Reservoir, Everglades restoration is a science-based effort that will send more beneficial water south from the lake to the Everglades, thereby significantly reducing the harmful discharges to the coasts.

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Click each FAQ to get answers.
What causes red tide?

When large concentrations of Florida red tide (Karenia Brevis) form blooms, it can discolor the water to appear red or brown, creating what is referred to as ‘red tide.’ Red tide is a marine dinoflagellate that feeds on nutrients like nitrogen, and can take advantage of excess nutrients in the water to multiply. Typically, blooms develop offshore, but can be brought inshore by currents and winds. When blooms are transported inshore, human-generated nutrient pollution can intensify them, like throwing fuel on a fire.

Why is red tide harmful?

Karenia Brevis produces neurotoxins that can sicken or kill fish, seabirds, turtles and marine mammals. Toxins can also affect humans, causing respiratory irritation if toxins are inhaled, and skin and/or eye irritation by contact. It can also cause shellfish poisoning if shellfish contaminated with toxins are consumed.

Do humans make red tide worse?

Once inshore, red tide blooms can feed on human-generated nutrient pollution to fuel their growth. These excess nutrients can come from nutrient-loaded Lake Okeechobee discharges, stormwater runoff, agricultural runoff, fertilizer entering the waterways, inadequate sewage/wastewater infrastructure, and other contributors.

How do Lake Okeechobee discharges affect red tide?

Scientists from Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and University of Florida’s Center for Coastal Solutions recently published a study confirming that Lake O discharges intensify coastal red tide blooms. These high-volume discharges inundate the Caloosahatchee estuary with nitrogen-loaded freshwater and toxic cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) that supercharges red tide blooms to unnatural intensity and duration

What’s being done to fix the red tide problem?

The SCCF/UF study serves as a valuable step forward by providing the scientific evidence needed to pursue opportunities to reduce coastal bloom intensity, duration, and, perhaps, frequency through strategic watershed nutrient management and Lake discharge operations. However, such strategies cannot be expected to eliminate blooms altogether, since offshore initiation and shoreward transport of blooms is well documented (e.g., Weisberg et al., 2019). Further investigation and modeling will be needed to quantify the extent to which policy and management interventions within the watershed can be expected to provide relief. (source: SCCF/UF study)

How can we get relief from red tide blooms?
We must send Lake O water south instead of to the coasts. High volume discharges are one of the most significant nutrient contributors to the estuary and are scientifically found to make red tide worse. Instead of discharging polluted lake water to the coasts, especially when red tide is present, Everglades restoration allows us to send the water south where it can be stored, cleaned, and conveyed south to the Everglades and Florida Bay where it’s desperately needed.
The second factor to sending water south is improved lake operations which will go into effect with the new lake operations manual, LOSOM, in Fall 2023.
What is Captains For Clean Water doing to fix these water problems?

Captains For Clean Water is primarily focused on expediting Everglades restoration in order to reduce harmful Lake O discharges and send the water south to the Everglades where it’s needed. With our powerful army of supporters, we advocate for state and federal funding to expedite Everglades restoration progress, advance effective water policy, and ensure policy makers keep water quality a priority by creating public pressure to hold them accountable

What is the current status of Everglades restoration?

Everglades restoration progress is happening at record pace! Momentum has continued thanks to public engagement on water issues and the leadership of Governor DeSantis. The cornerstone project, the EAA Reservoir, just broke ground in February 2023 and will be the single most effective project for reducing harmful discharges and sending water south. Learn the latest on Everglades restoration progress in the 2023 South Florida Environmental Report (SFER) by the South Water Management District (SFWMD).

What is the current status of the new lake operations manual (LOSOM)? When will we see benefits?

LOSOM is expected to be implemented in Fall 2023, however, it will take a full water year before we begin to see the benefits of the new plan.

What can I do to help?

Get involved. There is no silver bullet solution to red tide or water quality issues which is why it’s critical to complete Everglades restoration as quickly as possible. That requires involvement from people like yourself who care about the state of our water, getting involved and speaking up when we have the opportunity to influence progress or water policy outcomes.

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Featuring SCCF'S Dr. Eric Milbrandt & our Executive Director Daniel Andrews
What you can do TODAY to help...



The Florida Department of Health Poison Hotline 800-222-1222 is available to answer any questions related to Red Tide health impacts or concerns. 


The long-term solution to reduce the harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee and stop compounding the issues that impact our coasts is Everglades restoration.

Through critical infrastructure projects like the EAA Reservoir, Everglades restoration is a science-based effort that will send more beneficial water south from the lake to the Everglades, thereby significantly reducing the harmful discharges to the coasts. The Everglades and Florida Bay desperately need the water the EAA Reservoir will convey.

Everglades restoration will provide relief, but it’s a massive, long-term project that will still take years more to complete. We need as many people as possible involved in this fight to ensure these solutions reach the finish line ASAP without delays or bureaucratic holdups. 



Stay up to date with the state of our estuaries as we head into rainy season. 


Turn to us to learn what factors influence positive or negative implications for our coasts. 


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