During each session of on-the-water boat training I conduct, it’s a guarantee my client will ask me what I think about this red tide stuff. My reply starts with, “Well, I’m disappointed, but not surprised.”
In a maritime sense, we have shot a flare asking for help. Many folks near and far have observed it: Newspapers, live television, focus groups, politicians, private citizens. Many have even traveled to our nation’s capital to sound the alarm.
Support them, but remember, here locally we can’t finish something we don’t start. The next step after shooting a flare is the hope that help will be on the way. But in the meantime (keeping this in a maritime theme), the captain would ensure he or she was doing everything possible to keep the boat safe until help arrives.
Enter our current situation. Our flare has been shot, lots of discussions are ongoing and groups are acting. Unfortunately, many are merely pointing fingers. Let’s all make a difference to help make the rescue successful. What can approximately 1.3 million Southwest Floridians do right now today to keep help keep us safe and help the current water quality situation?
• Limit your use of outdoor chemicals. When possible, use natural fertilizers such as bat guano, fish emulsion, emulsified seaweed, grass clippings, compost or coffee grinds, all which are very effective alternatives to synthetic fertilizers.
• Use natural pesticides such as hot pepper emulsion, tomato, nettle, and garlic leaf sprays which are all are very effective against many plant pests. For more advanced gardeners, we can use beneficial nematodes as part of a practice known as integrated pest management (IPM).
• Avoid herbicide use altogether. Remember, with the timing of our rainy season, herbicides, fertilizers and pesticides will leach into our tributaries, Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf, poisoning everything in their path. This is important for all of us, but becomes crucially so for those fortunate enough to live on the water.
• Ensure any water that drains into our canals, lakes or any other tributaries is free of pollution. What drains from our roads and homes makes its way into our waterways.
• If your home is on a septic system, do your part to keep operating efficiently. Pumping it regularly will help during the rainy season when drain fields are breached by our rising water table.
• Keep our mangroves healthy. They are miracle plants that filter water and help prevent erosion (and also help block damaging winds and storm surge during hurricanes).
• Get involved. Shoot your own “flare of concern” in any organization where you can cause change. Our local population is estimated to grow to 1.6 million by 2025 (not counting seasonal visitors). If we all commit ourselves to doing something little, we can and will accomplish something great.
• Reduce, reuse, recycle. With 12,133 square miles of waterfront property, one would think recycling in Florida would be mandatory. Think again. Currently only about 55 percent of Floridians recycle. A few years ago, Florida had a goal to have 75 percent of Floridians recycling by 2020. It failed. Why is it so difficult to do the right thing for the right reason? Remember, what stays out of our landfills and waterways makes a huge difference to our very fragile ecosystem. Recycling also lessens the likelihood of plastic items reaching our waterways where they poison our fish and kill our turtles and birds.
None of the above suggestions will fix our problems, but they are a start. They are simple actions that you and I can take today until help arrives. Many people demand immediate gratification — fix it all, right now, so I can go back to doing whatever I want.
Unfortunately, this is not a video game. It’s real life, and real life doesn’t work that way. It’s taken decades of water abuse to get us to where we are today, and it will take decades of careful, thoughtful steps to repair the damage. Change to our water quality will take time, but it can start right now with immediate action by we the people.
Do your part, become “brilliant on the basics” and remember that can’t never did anything.