BY NIKKI HEIMANN - The surrounding waters of Boca Grande and many other beaches along Florida’s coast have been hit hard with the malignant algae, Karenia brevis. The onshore winds have been affecting many people who spend their day on the island. It’s become normal to hear a chorus of coughing around town, especially when outdoors. This red tide has been lingering, coming and going since October. It has been reported that this is the worst outbreak since 2007.
The fish kills have been large these past few months – reaching hundreds of thousands just in this area – which is hazardous to the birds feeding on washed-up carcasses, and to the people who inhale the distinctive scent of rotting fish (with a side of airborne toxins). The algae can spread in warm or cold water, and becomes airborne once hitting the shore, traveling with the wind. Many longtime residents of this area agree, according to Sayer Ji of greenmedinfo.com.
“The blooms have been getting progressively worse, closer to shore,” he said, “and persisting for a greater length of time, indicating that if it is an entirely natural cycle, it has undergone concerning changes.”
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Mote Marine Laboratory are both informational authorities on marine environmental issues in the state of Florida. They update their websites regularly to warn people of red tide outbreaks. They claim that the Karenia brevis algal are a “natural phenomenon, beyond our ability to control.” These local environmental authorities claim that the algae is “explicitly not fed by nutrient pollution or causally linked to land-based, human activities.”
Red tide and its effects have been documented since the early 1540s, and its absolute cause is still unknown. Many scientists agree that natural organic decay and artificial fertilizers cause excess nutrients that run off into our waterways. This is important because those nutrients allow the algae to reproduce. Considering ocean currents as another factor, it can be hypothesized that the sporadic algae outbreaks are typically confined to waters surrounding certain masses of land. Although k. brevis can be found many miles offshore, large amounts are concentrated in certain areas where bloom formation is prevalent.
Consider Boca Grande as an example, with its lush golf courses and consistently maintained landscapes. In order to keep every blade of grass the brightest shade of green, workers have to spray fertilizers and pesticides onto plants on a regular basis. After it rains, the runoff carries excess fertilizer into a nearby waterway or it seeps into the ground. If there is no drainage for the chemically spiked water to escape to, it may fester on the surface, creating a very unsightly green sludge and nauseating smell.
Many residents and guests were exposed to this type of potentially-pesticide-filled pool a few months ago when passing by the north end of the island on the bike path. The stinky ditches became such an issue that county maintenance had to come suck the sludge out with special equipment and cover the remaining slime with rocks to suffocate the smell.
If the stinky ditches were so offensive that they had to be renovated, then think about how much the pesticide runoff could affect our nearby waterways. Granted, there is much more water in which the runoff can circulate, but the overall effect it is having on our wildlife and personal health is not something to be ignored. It could very well be correlated with this continuous bout of red tide.
It is not only Florida that is affected by algal blooms, many lakes and rivers up north are having similar issues that are devastating tourist industries and real estate agencies. The effects of fertilizers and pesticides seem to be disrupting ecological balances, and should be investigated further by concerned citizens and scientists. Most people do not enjoy spending time in a smelly environment or swimming in discolored water, so it would be beneficial to put forth an effort to determine what exactly is causing these peculiar acts of nature.
Nikki Heimann is a freelance writer for the Boca Beacon.
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