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article imageFlorida's toxic algae bloom is worst in recent memory

By Karen Graham     Aug 9, 2018 in Environment
Red tides have broken out in Florida for centuries. But scientists believe they may be getting worse after generations of unchecked development, water mismanagement and the new scourge of climate change.
The marine deaths have gone on for the past two months, according to the News-Press, and the stench from the red tide has turned southwest Florida into a tragic dead zone with miles of deserted beaches.
And according to scientists, residents will not see any relief from the toxic algae bloom until the ocean water temperatures drop later this year, or hopefully, some offshore winds push it away from shore. The ecological disaster has become so bad that it has now taken on a political tone.
Florida Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat, called on the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), hoping to get help with the algae and red tide crisis that is the worst in Florida since 2005-2006.
Toxic algae blooms can wreck havoc on the environment. 
Photo by: Dr. Jennifer L. Graham USGS
Toxic algae blooms can wreck havoc on the environment. Photo by: Dr. Jennifer L. Graham USGS
“I called on the CDC to help with the algae & red tide crisis here in Florida,” Nelson tweeted Wednesday, reports Newsweek. “They just wrote back. Said they are ready to help but can’t until the state asks for it. What is going on? Why aren’t state leaders asking for help? This is a real crisis – we need all hands on deck!”
What is a red tide?
Red tide is a common name for a worldwide phenomenon known as an algal bloom (large concentrations of aquatic microorganisms—protozoans or unicellular algae) when it is caused by species of dinoflagellates and other organisms.
Red tides or toxic algae blooms are generally described as harmful algal blooms or HABs. The most conspicuous effects of these kinds of red tides are wildlife deaths as well as the health risks to humans. Scientists have identified the culprit in this red tide event as Karenia brevis.
Karenia brevis
Karenia brevis
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
This particular species of Karenia is known to cause respiratory distress and neurotoxic shellfish poisoning (NSP) in humans. And when the concentration of the organism is high enough, it can also cause respiratory problems in humans. This bloom began in 2017 and has grown and shrunk in size as it has lingered along Florida's Gulf Coast.
the latest testing by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) revealed a bloom that shows high counts of “1.0 million cells per liter and higher along the Southwest coast, from the north end of Sarasota County to Marco Island,” reported the Fort Myers News-Press.
The FWC said in its report that fish kills and breathing issues in humans can occur when levels reach 10,000 cells per liter. The News-Press reported that in recent days the counts "were close to 2.5 million cells per liter at the Sanibel Lighthouse," according to the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.
Harvesting sugar cane in Florida s Everglades Agricultural Area.
Harvesting sugar cane in Florida's Everglades Agricultural Area.
Conservation Technology Information Center
Pointing fingers and who to blame?
Politicians and citizens are getting very concerned over the number of marine animal deaths. There are so many dead fish, sea turtles, dolphins and even a young whale shark that three tractor-trailers have been in use to move dead animals across and off the beaches.
To make matters worse, there are also blue-green algae blooms in inland waters. This alga continues to choke the Caloosahatchee River and attached canals. It started on Lake Okeechobee in early June and quickly showed up in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers. Some of this blue-green algae has moved into the Caloosahatchee estuary and died because it can't tolerate the higher salinity levels.
All the problems with these algae blooms has scientists looking for a "smoking gun." There is no smoking gun behind Florida's ecological problems. The reasons behind the worsening algae blooms has been staring people in the face for years.
As we all know, human development, mismanagement of water resources and even greed has been blamed for the increase in algae blooms in the Sunshine State. It may be hard to swallow, but it is true. As Florida's population has grown, humans encroached on the natural wetlands, cutting off the natural drainage and changing the course of the great flowing river within the Everglades.
Algae infestation in Florida in 2016.
Algae infestation in Florida in 2016.
Another factor in the increase in algae blooms is sugar cane. This grass has been grown in Florida since the 1920s and is one of the most economically important crops in the state. According to a sugar cane growers group, sugar cane is grown in an environmentally sustainable manner today.
But that has not always been the case and poor management in the growing of this important crop has taken its toll on Florida's ecologically important Lake Okeechobee and the glades. And like big oil, big sugar has always managed to keep state politicians in their pockets leading to little action in conservation.
Instead of pointing fingers - is it about time that Floridians start thinking about how to change this collision course they are on. "The real question is exactly what role (human) activity is playing on red tides," says Dr. Mike Parsons, a red tide expert at Florida Gulf Coast University. "Between water discharges, our use of agricultural nutrients, the development of Florida and warming seas -- are we poking the bear?"
More about Florida, Red tide, Algae bloom, southwest florida, Political pressure
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