Manasota Key enjoyed a red tide-free morning Tuesday, according to several reports.
No scratchy throats or coughing, no foul fish scent in the air, no dead fish or other marine life washing up onto the shore. Instead, whether it was an easterly wind blowing the toxic algae further offshore or the Gulf currents shifting slightly, Manasota Key enjoyed beautiful conditions — a good day to visit the beach.
But that doesn’t mean the toxic red tide algae isn’t lingering offshore.
Red tide, Karina brevis, is natural to the Gulf in concentrations of 1,000 cells or less per liter of water. Typically, red tide in the Gulf blossoms at this time of year, in the late summer and fall months, generally in waters 10 to 40 miles offshore.
Since August, red tide has been spreading from Collier up the coast to Venice — so far. The strongest concentrations remain south of Charlotte Harbor, along Lee and Collier’s coastlines, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recent updates on myfwc.com.
When the concentrations exceed 100,000 cells per water liter and grow into the millions — like Southwest Florida discovered for most of 2018 — then humans can suffer serious respiratory and other ailments, sea life dies including sea turtles and sea mammals, and local coastal economies falter.
Red tide and other toxic algae blooms grew last year from a local problem into a state concern.
Visiting Stuart on the East Coast and Fort Myers on the West Coast Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis encouraged the public to sign onto the state’s online “Protect Florida Together” at www.protectingfloridatogether.gov. The website provides the public with access to information regarding efforts to address and improve Florida’s water quality.
“Our water and natural resources are the foundation of our economy and our way of life in Florida,” DeSantis stated in a press release. “That’s why it is vitally important that we keep Floridians informed of our current initiatives and the quality of our water at the state level.”
The website will focus on water issues, including current information on the water conditions in Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. Both rivers have been glutted with freshwater blue-green algae fed by nutrient-rich discharges from Okeechobee.
In August, DeSantis reactivated the state’s dormant Red Tide Task Force under the auspices of the Florida Fish and Conservation Commission. He also initiated the creation of a Blue-Green Algae Task Force focusing on the freshwater algae that’s plagued the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.
Even before he was elected, then the Republican candidate for governor, DeSantis visited Englewood in August 2018 and heard from business owners, fishing guides and residents the detrimental impacts of red tide on the community.
Mote Marine Laboratory has been active in the consortium of Florida research efforts focusing on red tide. Cynthia Heil now directs Mote’s newly created Red Tide Institute and its Harmful Algae Blooms Mitigation & Ecology Program. Among its research efforts, Mote is looking for effective and environmentally safe methodologies to mitigate and minimize the impacts of red tide blooms on coastal communities.
Mote, FWC and other Florida scientists are attending this week the 10th annual U.S. Harmful Algae Blooms Symposium in Alabama where they can share the results of their latest research of red tide, blue-green and other toxic algae species.
New technology has been implemented in Lee County to track airborne toxins released by red tide algae. First developed by NASA’s Applied Science Program, the project is being overseen in Lee County by the Coastal Ocean Observing System, working with NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, Sanibel Sea School, Lee County and the city of Sanibel.