Water-Related News

Red tide largely spares Manatee County, but plagues beaches to the south

MANATEE COUNTY – The shores of Manatee County have lately been relatively free of the effects of red tide. But as beachgoers venture farther south along the Gulf of Mexico, it's a different story.

On Monday afternoon, beaches from Lido Key to Venice North Jetty reported some dead fish, some respiratory irritation or a little bit of both. This is according to Mote Marine Laboratory's Sarasota Operations Coastal Oceans Observation Lab, or SO COOL for short, which gathers the conditions of 29 beaches from Caladesi Island to Marco Island.

The Karenia brevis organism is naturally occurring but when it accumulates in toxic amounts, it becomes red tide. It's obvious to tell when red tide is on a beach when itchy, watery eyes or scratchy throats become unbearable, or if dead fish litter the shore.

Vince Lovko, phytoplankton ecology scientist with Mote Marine, said this particular bloom is "unusual, not remarkable." By this, he means that although red tide is typically known to appear between late summer and early fall, this particular instance in Manatee and Sarasota waters isn't that strange. The first day of summer is Thursday.

"Certainly we are aware that red tide ... can happen any time of the year," Lovko said.

The trouble is knowing enough about K. brevis to predict when it's going to happen, or to stop it from happening altogether. He compared it to predicting the weather.

"We don't try to change the weather, but we do try to get better at predicting it," he said.

He suspects that the recent harmful algal bloom is actually part of a bloom that has persisted since November 2017.

Volunteers plant seagrass in Caloosahatchee River

Seeding Success

Volunteers from The Calusa Waterkeeper, Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program and Sea and Shoreline gathered Monday, June 18 to begin a seagrass replenishment program. They planted widgeon and tape grass in the upper estuary of the Caloosahatchee River, utilizing prepared cages. These devices will help the plants get started and protect them until they reach maturity.

John Cassini of Calusa Waterkeeper explained that permitting for the project was a joint effort from Florida Department of Environmental Protection, National Marine and the Army Corps of Engineers. Florida House Representative Heather Fitzenhagen was on hand to help as well.

The fate of Florida’s wetlands could be decided behind closed doors, groups say

Environmental and activist groups are criticizing the state for drafting in secrecy the details of a new permitting process to build in Florida’s wetlands.

In a letter Monday addressed to Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein, environmental groups Audubon Florida and 1000 Friends of Florida alongside the League of Women Voters called for a more transparent process in DEP’s workshopping of an application that would give the state almost exclusive discretion in doling out permits to build in wetlands.

Currently, there are two systems in place to authorize building in Florida’s wetlands. Developers can request a permit through the state, or they can go through the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Over the years, the state’s permitting process has been streamlined, whereas the EPA’s system has remained slow. Some have described it as redundant.

HB 7043, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in March, gives DEP permission to draft an application to the EPA to allow the state to authorize federal permits, so long as they don’t breach Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act, which approves on a case-by-case basis development — known as “dredge and fill” activities — in wetlands.

DEP is rapidly drafting the application and taking public comment as is standard during accompanying rule-making workshops. It’s held three workshops around the state already, along with an online webinar. An estimated 300 Floridians have weighed in on rule-making, according to DEP, and the agency recently extended its public comment period by two weeks.

But the signatories of the Monday letter fear that a great bulk of the details of the application are being drafted outside of the sunshine.

Mote to host fifth Sarasota Lionfish Derby

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Mote Marine Laboratory and Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) are teaming up to help combat invasive lionfish that are taking over the Gulf of Mexico. Get ready for the July 6-8 Sarasota Lionfish Derby hosted by Mote, an environmentally beneficial event that helps divers harvest lionfish and provides public education. Join local chefs for a lionfish tasting competition, tickets available for $15 per person.

Lionfish Derbies are an important way to harvest large numbers of this invasive species that has spread along the eastern Atlantic coast, Columbia to Escambia counties. Derbies help divers harvest lionfish and provide public education.

This year’s event will be based at Mote, with a captain's meeting on July 6, lionfish hunting July 7 in the beautiful Gulf of Mexico — tournament boundaries are defined as Collier County to Escambia County — and the lionfish weigh-in July 8 at Mote Marine Laboratory. Cost to participate in the Derby is $120.00 per team (minimum 2 people per team, maximum 4 people). The public is invited to join Mote scientists and derby participants at the weigh-in for educational dissections and lionfish tastings on Sunday.

Groups working together to replant seagrasses in the Caloosahatchee

The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program and Calusa Waterkeeper are working with partners - including Johnson Engineering and Sea & Shoreline Aquatic Restoration - local residents and volunteers to replant seagrasses in the tidal Caloosahatchee River.

The kick-off event with dignitaries will begin on June 18 at 10 a.m. in Centennial Park in Fort Myers. The event will begin with opening remarks from the major organizations participating in the project, as well as from the dignitaries present including Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen. The remarks will be followed by a 15-minute demonstration on-site plants and exclusion cages that will be used. After, volunteers will leave by boats to go to other actual planting locations.

The project is to restore the Tidal Caloosahatchee River's submerged aquatic vegetation communities. The species planted are Ruppia maritime, commonly known as Ruppia, and Vallisneria Americana, commonly known as tape or eel grass. Aquatic vegetation is an important part of estuarine ecosystems, providing vital reproductive and nursery habitat for fish in addition to food for grazers such as manatees and turtles. They also improve water quality and clarity by removing nutrients and sediment. The Caloosahatchee River has historically supported vast seagrass beds. However, much of the coverage has been lost in recent years due in part to alterations in water flows to the Tidal Caloosahatchee River.

Trump's move to redefine water rule threatens wetlands banks

GAINESVILLE — A private firm is making big money selling promises about some gator-infested Florida swampland.

The Panther Island Mitigation Bank isn't another land boondoggle, but part of a federal system designed to restore wetlands across the United States. Panther Island's owners preserved one of the nation's last stands of virgin bald cypress, 4 square miles (10 square kilometers) on the western edge of the Everglades where they cleared away invasive plants and welcomed back wood storks, otters and other native flora and fauna.

Banks like this sell "wetlands mitigation credits" to developers for up to $300,000 apiece, offsetting the destruction of marshes by construction projects elsewhere. It's a billion-dollar industry that has slowed the loss of U.S. wetlands, half of which are already gone.

This uniquely American mix of conservation and capitalism has been supported by every president since George H.W. Bush pledged a goal of "no net loss" of wetlands, growing a market for mitigation credits from about 40 banks in the early 1990s to nearly 1,500 today. Investors include Chevron and Wall Street firms, working alongside the Audubon Society and other environmental groups.

Now the market is at risk.

Administrator Scott Pruitt's Environmental Protection Agency has completed a proposal for implementing President Donald Trump's executive order to replace the Waters of the United States rule, or WOTUS, with a much more limited definition of what constitutes a protected federal waterway.

Study: Anatartica's ice is rapidly melting, threatening coastal communities worldwide

OSLO – An accelerating thaw of Antarctica has pushed up world sea levels by almost a centimeter since the early 1990s in a risk for coasts from Pacific islands to Florida, an international team of scientists said on Thursday.

Antarctica has enough ice to raise seas by 190 feet if it ever all melted, dwarfing frozen stores in places from Greenland to the Himalayas and making its future the biggest uncertainty in understanding global warming and ocean levels.

The frozen continent lost almost 3 trillion tons of ice between 1992 and 2017, the 84 scientists said in what they called the most complete overview of Antarctic ice to date.

The thaw, tracked by satellite data and other measurements, contributed 0.3 inches to sea level rise since 1992, they wrote in the journal Nature.

And the ice losses quickened to 219 billion tons a year since 2012, from 76 billion previously. "The sharp increase … is a big surprise," professor Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds and a leader of the report, told Reuters.

See a whale shark in the Gulf? Call Mote Marine Lab immediately!

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Please report any whale shark sightings in the Gulf of Mexico immediately from your boat or just after disembarking, within 24 hours at most, to Dr. Bob Hueter at Mote’s Center for Shark Research: 941-302-0976. Please note the number of whale sharks spotted, the date, time, location and exact GPS coordinates if possible.

Mote Marine Laboratory received a report of five whale sharks — Earth’s largest fish species — about 40 miles off Anna Maria Island last weekend, and Mote scientists are asking members of the public to report new sightings off Florida’s Gulf Coast immediately.

“It’s exciting that we are hearing reports of five whale sharks in one area, because it suggests they might be feeding on something in a special spot,” said Dr. Bob Hueter, Senior Scientist and Director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote.

Whale sharks sporadically visit Southwest Florida’s coastal waters, most likely to filter-feed on localized blooms of plankton or fish eggs. They are easily identified by their massive size, up to about 45 feet, and their polka dot coloration. “It’s important to understand where these sharks migrate, feed and carry out other key parts of their life cycles, so that resource managers can successfully protect them,” Hueter said. “We have placed satellite-linked tracking tags on numerous whale sharks at a major feeding aggregation off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in the past decade, but it’s rarer that we can find and tag these huge fish off Florida’s Gulf Coast.”

If others are reported in the Gulf, Hueter and partners want to attach a special type of satellite tag to one or more of these gentle giants, to collect data on their geographic location and the temperatures and depths they encounter over a six-month period.

This tag trails behind the shark’s first dorsal fin on a short tether and, whenever the shark is at the surface, the tag transmits precise location data. Retrieving the tag will yield extensive data, but if it cannot be recovered, the scientists will still receive real-time GPS signals from the tag, revealing where the shark is traveling, along with other summarized data on depth and temperature.

Please report any whale shark sightings in the Gulf of Mexico immediately from your boat or just after disembarking, within 24 hours at most, to Dr. Bob Hueter at Mote’s Center for Shark Research: 941-302-0976. Please note the number of whale sharks spotted, the date, time, location and exact GPS coordinates if possible.

Discharges begin with an unhealthy Lake Okeechobee

Lake Okeechobee discharges have begun and it's unclear for how long.

p> Paul Gray with Audubon Florida says the lake is very unhealthy right now and still recovering from Hurricane Irma.

p> "Inflow from Irma with all the nutrients in the water," said Gray.

p> During the month of January in 2016, there was quite a bit of rain bringing on early discharges. A large algae bloom on Lake Okeechobee made its way east.

p> This year we don't have an algae bloom just yet, but Gray says conditions are perfect.

p> "We have conditions similar to 2016; it's going to be summer, it's going to be warm, the water is going to clear up and we've got a lot of nutrients in the lake. Unfortunately, it's a good recipe for possible algae blooms," said Gray.

p> The lake is about three feet higher than it was a year ago.

Water Authority expects $550,000 bill in fight over future water withdrawals

A regional authority that supplies drinking water to North Port as well as the counties of Sarasota, Charlotte and DeSoto expects to spend up to $550,000 to defend its plan to increase withdrawals from the Peace River. Seven government entities in upstream Polk County recently filed legal challenges to block that expansion plan.

The board of the Peace River-Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority spent nearly a half-hour Wednesday in a closed-door session with its attorney, Douglas Manson, to discuss the pending cases. It then reconvened a public meeting to authorize payments to Manson’s Tampa-based firm for its defense.

Sitting as the authority’s board, Sarasota County Commissioner Alan Maio, Manatee County Commissioner Priscilla Whisenant Trace, DeSoto County Commissioner Elton A. Langford and Charlotte County Commissioner Ken Doherty approved the potential expenses unanimously. They did not publicly discuss the litigation.

Fort Myers prepares for potential flooding from weekend rain

Water came close to George Eveleigh’s front door twice last year. And he thinks it will happen again this weekend. “We are expecting it to get to the bottom step…maybe the top step. For sure this street will get completely flooded,” he said. Eveleigh and his neighbors had to deal with a lot of flooding during hurricane season last year. MORE: Chances for first tropical system of year up to 90 percent “We think the canal has something to do with it. We think the clogged storm drains have something to do with it,” Eveleigh said. The biggest concerns for neighbors who were flooded last year are palm fronds getting picked up and traveling to drains causing them to flood. Now, with rainy season upon SWFL, neighbors are asking the city for help. “First of all get the storm drains cleared out. That doesn’t get done regularly,” Eveleigh said. The city of Fort Myers says they’re monitoring developments closely and add that the safety of their residents is their utmost priority.

FGCU team testing for micro-plastics in SWFL waters

Some can be seen by the naked eye, while others can only be viewed under a microscope. But plastic is polluting our waters—and our bodies.

“We’re driving by pieces of plastic, filaments, everything from your shirts, clothing, broken up just stuff from the road..it’s in everything,” said FGCU student Conner Thompson.

“We’re producing a lot of micro plastic every day whether it’s on your clothes or micro plastics actually deteriorating in the water and breaks down into really tiny pieces, then they get into the food web and eventually we eat that stuff,” added Dr. Serge Thomas, an associate professor at FGCU.

For the first time, Thomas and his student Thompson are testing how much micro plastic is in Estero Bay.

While they are invisible to the naked eye, they linger for more than 400 years, harming the environment over time.

“Eventually you know when you wash your clothes, you know that water will eventually get micro plastics. The water treatment plant is not designed to remove very very small particles from the water,” Thomas said.

The team says they’ve sampled and tested Estero Bay several times, each time finding plastic pollution.

Temporary closures in Charlotte County

Hathaway Park Canoe/Kayak Launch Closure

PUNTA GORDA – Due to washouts at Hathaway Park the canoe/kayak launch will be closed until further notice. To launch your canoe or kayak use the boat ramp, which remains open. Hathaway Park is located at 35461 Washington Loop Road, Punta Gorda.

For more information, please email Michelle Long or call her at 941-639-5828.

Englewood Beach Main Pavilion Closure

ENGLEWOOD – The construction at the restroom pavilion at Englewood Beach, located at 2300 Beach Rd., Englewood will begin on May 29. The full installation is expected to be completed in approximately three days. During the installation, the main pavilion and circle drive in front of the main pavilion will be closed to beach patrons. Portable toilets will be available for use in the immediate area. Please use caution in the construction area.

For more information, please email Brenda Sisk or call her at 941-833-3824.

Scientists: Please report horseshoe crabs on Florida's west coast

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They look like tanks.

They hook up on the beach.

Their lineage goes back more than 445 million years.

Call them blue bloods — without the paparazzi.

They are horseshoe crabs. They really do have blue blood.

And although they’re not conventional celebrities, these critters are crucial to human health and the region’s ecosystem.

That realization is propelling increased monitoring and public education efforts on many levels.

It’s no easy task; they cover a lot of territory. Horseshoe crabs are found along the North Atlantic coast, from Mexico to Maine.

They live in shallow ocean waters, coming ashore only to reproduce. They eat fish, algae and crustaceans, and can live about 20 years.

"Crab" is a misnomer. They're more closely related to spiders or scorpions.

Modern horseshoe crabs are not listed as “threatened,” but it's believed their numbers have declined due to over-harvesting and loss of habitat.

Little is known about their numbers today, though, in the Sunshine State.

“They’re poorly understood and understudied,” said Armando Ubeda, marine biologist and Florida Sea Grant agent with UF/IFAS Extension for Sarasota County.

Suncoast Reef Rovers brush aside schooling snook to clean North Jetty

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Suncoast Reef Rover divers said the snook were so thick along the North Jetty that they literally had to brush them aside to conduct their underwater cleanup on Sunday, May 20, 2018. It was a beautiful morning for everyone involved, a total of 41 volunteers, 20 divers, 3 paddlers, and 16 “topsider” support.

It’s so much fun to get together with good people and spend a little time making one of our favorite places better for fish, wildlife and people too.

Ken Lackmann got everybody organized. Ronda Ryan and Susie got filthy measuring and weighing all the crazy things that were pulled up. This underwater cleanup was a friendly collaboration among the Suncoast Reef Rovers of Venice, Sarasota Bay Watch, Reelcycle and the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.

Polk County interests want potential impacts of Peace River utility project studied

Government water managers on Tuesday postponed a vote on a four-county utility’s permit to pump and store more water from the Peace River until several challenges to the proposal can be reviewed.

Seven challenges, primarily from Polk County, were filed early last week against the Peace River-Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority’s proposed permit that would increase the amount of water it pumps from the Peace River to 258 million gallons per day. It would also allow for the authority to supply up to 80 million gallons of water to its Southwest Florida customers every day in coming years.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District had been set to consider the permit Tuesday.

Currently, the authority’s permit from the water management district allows the authority to store 120 million gallons of water per day during the summer rainy season, when river flows are typically highest.

A new permit would allow the authority to pursue bigger plans: to build a third reservoir. This would allow the authority to store more than 18 billion gallons of water in the dry spring season from November to May to use for drinking water, while taking less water from the river to maintain fresh water flows downstream to Charlotte Harbor, the state’s second-largest estuary.

Along with the reservoir, the authority plans a bigger water treatment plant. The expansion could cost about $200 million.

The authority is run jointly by Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties. It supplies millions of gallons of drinking water per day, primarily to customers in Charlotte and Sarasota counties and the city of North Port.