Here we go again with red tide. Calling all drama queens: The sky is falling! It’s the end of the world!
On the local waterfront, everyone is covering our red tide problems. Unfortunately, it’s back. But that’s not a huge surprise. In fact, a column last week by Betty Staugler, our Florida Sea Grant agent, reported we have endured it in some form for 57 of the last 66 years! Don’t you think it’s about time we tried to at least cut back on nutrients that feed it?
Red tide press is challenging. It scares folks even where red tide doesn’t yet exist! We tend to dramatize this disaster even before it occurs. Anything negative about water quality issues that can scare us away from our waterfront is front and center in news media.
I am pleased to see much more detailed and accurate coverage by most recently. They’re reporting the actual problem areas and noting projected travel. That’s good. Educate us on tracking problems so we can enjoy our safe beaches and avoid problem areas.
This is a big deal for all of us. Because I earn my living from water-related activities — guiding fishing trips — I care more than most. We absolutely need to make the public aware of safety and any issues that would hamper your waterside fun. But is it newsworthy to have people saying, “I felt a scratchy throat,” or, “I smelled red tide at the beach,” when we have had strong winds blowing offshore?
It seems to me it would be better to get quotes from people with some sort of professional qualifications, not scared folks on the beach. We must deal with threats, but let’s focus on what’s real rather than what people think is real.
I’ll share my sure way to predict when red tide fish kills are coming. Watch the sky, and when the vultures start circling, beware. This is real and I’m very serious. When large numbers of vultures show up over our waterways, we have trouble. These birds have an extremely acute sense of smell, and I trust their noses. They have learned what odors announce upcoming fish kills and they show up early.
South of us, in the Fort Myers and Naples area, they have had serious problems for weeks, with red tide and dead rotting algae on some Gulf beaches. Currently we have some problem areas too, with fish kills reported from Venice to Boca Grande. This stuff moves around with wind and current, so problem “hot spots” are never stationary.
Red tide problems are significantly increased by excess nutrients in our waters. Blame who or what you want (sugar farms, orange groves, sewage spills, leaking septic tanks, etc.), but everything adds up and contributes to our problems. Fort Myers Beach started experiencing trouble right after they started releasing water from Lake Okeechobee again. Coincidence or contributing factor? Ask the experts; I just try to connect the dots and note events.
I’m sure all of this will be blamed on Trump or Gov. DeSantis; that usually works for many folks. But really, people are our problem. There are too many of us producing too much waste. Population growth north of Okeechobee blew up nutrient loads dumping into the lake. We need to figure out how to balance the growth and impacts of that growth on our environments. Remember that about 60 million people visiting Orlando every year have a huge impact on downstream water quality.
This has been allowed to accumulate over decades, and addressing the true sources of pollution will require a lot of time and money. It’s not going away tomorrow or next year or the year after that. In the meantime, sincere efforts are being taken to address Lake Okeechobee’s problems. Storage systems are being built to reduce outflows, which should help some.
How bad is the current red tide situation around Englewood and our area? The reports from the FWC’s weekly monitoring indicate that we do have the presence of red tide organisms and some dead fish. Our economy depends on beaches and fishing. We all suffered severe economic impacts last year. Every beach-related business needs any positive news we can get to help our recovery.
To the media: I understand this has to be talked about, and that’s fine. It’s your job. But please, be accurate in reporting problems. Let folks know when we have any confirmed issues. Don’t create disasters or make them worse. When you overreact, others will as well. And when the red tide goes away, promote our good fortune with as much vigor as you do our troubles.
Remember, you can’t catch fish if you don’t go fishin’, so let’s go fishin’ soon.
Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.