Water-Related News

Volunteer boat captains and snorkelers needed for Pine Island Sound Scallop Search, Aug. 26th

LEE COUNTY – Join Florida Sea Grant-UF/IFAS Lee County Extension and the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation by participating in the 2017 Pine Island Sound Scallop Search, a resource-monitoring program in which volunteers snorkel, looking for scallops in select areas within Pine Island Sound. The event is sponsored by Lee County Parks and Recreation, Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, Friends of Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve and Pineland Marina.

Purpose: To monitor and document the health and status of the bay scallop population.

How it works: Up to 40 boats are needed with as many as 140 participants to search selected sites in Pine Island Sound and San Carlos Bay for the elusive “bay scallop.”

History: Large populations of bay scallops (or Argopecten irradians) disappeared from Southwest Florida waters decades ago due in large part to degraded water quality, related declines in seagrass acreage, over-harvesting and other causes. Water quality and seagrasses have improved in many areas to levels that may once again support these important bivalves. This event is modeled after the successful Great Bay Scallop Search conducted in Tampa Bay since 1993. Pine Island Sound’s inaugural event was in 2010.

Need to know: Reservations are required to participate in the event. Space is limited, reserve your spot now. Scallop searchers will meet at 8:30 a.m. at Pineland Marina, 13921 Waterfront Drive, Pineland, FL, 33922, to receive survey equipment and instructions for the monitoring event. Lunch is provided to participants once they return to shore and report their information.

Fort Myers beach City Council won’t get 30% plans before next stormwater vote

FORT MYERS BEACH – In January, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council voted nay against funding a 30 percent survye and design plan for the rest of the island's stormwater.

In March, the council reversed that decision, unanimously voting to approve a street-by-street survey and 30 percent design by Tetra Tech to get a birds-eye view of the town's stormwater needs.

It was an about-face urged by Tetra Tech and town staff, with both staffs hailing this plan as a vital tool for making stormwater decision in the future.

But despite that urgency, the council was told Monday it won't be getting that plan until October - and it will be asked to vote on several steps in stormwater project at its Sept. 4 meeting.

Cape Coral honored for future-focused water resources initiatives

The city of Cape Coral Utilities Department received a "Utility of the Future Today" award for the department's future-focused initiatives. Cape Coral was one of just 25 water utilities in the country to receive this recognition.

The award celebrates the achievements of forward-thinking, innovative water utilities that are providing value-added service to communities. The recognition specifically focuses on leadership in community engagement, watershed stewardship and recovery of resources such as water, energy, and nutrients.

"This national recognition gives validation to the hard work of our utilities staff," said Cape Coral Utilities Director Jeff Pearson in the release. "Cape Coral is honored to be recognized alongside other exceptional utilities who strive for excellence in employing innovative initiatives and long-term sustainability."

The recognition program was established in 2016 by four water sector organizations: the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), the Water Environment Federation (WEF), the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation (WE&RF) and WateReuse, with input from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Utility of the Future framework provides a model for utilities of all sizes to achieve more efficient operations, enhanced productivity and long-term sustainability. The Utility of the Future concept is being promoted as the nation's water systems transform operations through innovation and technology.

Honorees will be recognized during an awards ceremony at Water Environment Federation's Technical Exhibit and Conference this October in Chicago.

Source: City of Cape Coral

Sen. Nelson to EPA: Help Fort Myers residents get the sludge out

FORT MYERS – A contaminated city dump site in the middle of a Fort Myers residential neighborhood may gain the attention of the Environmental Protection Agency if a request from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson succeeds.

“After nearly a decade, there is still toxic sludge in a residential neighborhood, and families have no idea when, if ever, it will be cleaned up,” Nelson, D-Orlando, wrote EPA chief Scott Pruitt in a letter dated Aug. 11, calling on the agency to investigate the situation and make sure the site is remediated.

Purchased in 1962 for water treatment waste disposal, the site at South Street and Henderson Avenue in Fort Myers sat unmitigated and exposed to unsuspecting families as homes grew up around it, until The News-Press reported it in June.

The city will soon conduct a full DEP-approved site assessment to determine the extent of the contamination and risk to residents, spurred by state Rep. and agriculture commission candidate Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, with an inquiry into the state Departmental of Environmental Protection’s handling of the matter.

The city’s commitment to actually removing the sludge has community activists concerned, however. Nelson's involvement came a week after organizer Anthony Thomas, Jr. held a conference call with the senator's chief of staff.

Suncoast Reef Rovers strike again! Marine debris removed from Venice North Jetty

News Image

Enthusiastic volunteers gathered on Saturday morning, August 11, 2017 for the Suncoast Reef Rovers annual underwater clean-up of the Venice North Jetty, a popular fishing spot. A combination of 19 SCUBA divers, 19 ‘topsider’ helpers, one kayaker, one snorkeler, and one Sarasota County Sheriffs police boat worked for a few hours to rid the underwater habitat of abandoned fishing gear.

Sarasota Bay Watch partnered with the Reef Rovers to help gather volunteers, sort debris, and gather data. The EPA donated sturdy dive bags and ReelCycle partnered to ensure best practices for waste disposal. NAUI Green Diver Initiative was also on hand.

The Venice North Jetty was cleared of:

  • 81 pounds of fishing nets
  • 82 pounds of lead (removed from the nets)
  • 243 pounds of abandoned traps
  • 108 pounds of fishing line
  • 72 pounds of rope
  • 55 lures
  • 6 fishing poles
  • 50 pounds of recycling

Full story with photos of the Rovers in action »

Record year for sea turtle nests means more hatchlings on beaches

This week marks the halfway point of sea turtle nesting season and Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program’s (STCRP) 36th year. So far this year, STCRP has documented a record-breaking number of nests from the north end of Longboat Key to Venice – 4,385 loggerhead and 77 green turtle nests. This is an increase of more than 1 percent for loggerheads and 1,183 percent for green sea turtles compared with the entire 2016 nesting season.

“With these significant increases in sea turtle nests it is even more important for beachgoers and local residents to be aware of how their actions could affect our local hatchlings,” said Mote Senior Aquarium Biologist Holly West. “This nesting season, we have already had over 1,200 hatchlings come through Mote’s Hatchling Hospital. The most common reasons for hatchlings to be admitted is disorientation due to artificial lights along the beach and being injured by predators.”

During summer months Mote Aquarium visitors can view sea turtle hatchlings in rehabilitation via an exhibit window in the Hatchling Hospital. These individuals will receive medical care, and when they are deemed healthy, they will be released either on the beach or via boat.

“This is a busy time for Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program," said Mote Senior Biologist Kristen Mazzarella. "The Sea Turtle Patrol has walked the local beaches every morning for the last few months, diligently marking and monitoring nests, and now we are starting to see the evidence of hatches.” When asked how the public can help, Mazzarella replied, “The two most important ways a person can help sea turtle hatchlings is to stay off the beaches at night so you don’t disturb nesting turtles or hatchlings and to shield or turn off lights visible to the beach.”

On the nesting beaches, artificial light from waterfront properties or people with flashlights or cell phone lights can disorient nesting female turtles and their young, which emerge at night and use dim natural light to find the sea. Also, beach furniture, holes, trash and other obstacles can impede sea turtles and their young. Mote encourages coastal residents and visitors to follow the turtle-friendly tips listed below during nesting season, May 1 - Oct. 31.

The sea level did, in fact, rise faster in Florida and the southeast U.S.

For people in the southeastern United States, and especially in Florida, who feel that annoying tidal flooding has sneaked up on them in recent years, it turns out to be true. And scientists have a new explanation.

In a paper published online Wednesday, University of Florida researchers calculated that from 2011 to 2015, the sea level along the American coastline south of Cape Hatteras, N.C., rose six times faster than the long-term rate of global increase.

"I said, 'That's crazy!' " Andrea Dutton, one of the researchers, recalled saying when a colleague first showed her the figures. " 'You must have done something wrong!' "

But it was correct. During that period of rapid increase, many people in Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale and other coastal communities started to notice unusual "sunny-day flooding," a foot or two of salt water inundating their streets at high tide for no apparent reason.

In the paper, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the scientists proposed a mechanism to explain the rapid increase: Two large-scale atmospheric patterns had intersected to push up the water off the Southeast coast, causing a "hot spot" of sea-level rise.

This new mechanism, if it holds up to scientific scrutiny, might ultimately give researchers the ability to predict tidal flooding more accurately and warn communities what to expect months in advance.

Sanibel water quality called into question

SANIBEL – Cece Ceballos of Cape Coral is cutting her beach trip short because she is not happy with the water quality.

"It should be clearer," she said. "It was better when I first came here 11 years ago."

She noticed a line others have too. A viewer sent in a picture showing a clear cut dividing lighter and darker water.

We showed the picture to Sanibel's natural resources director, James Evans. He said it's a natural line showing the freshwater from the Caloosahatchee meeting the salt water.

"That's typical during the rainy season," he said. "We get large volumes of water that come from the watershed. That will push the freshwater plume out into San Carlos Bay and that's what's you're seeing in that photograph."

The bay is recovering leaps ahead of what it was last year.

Evans said the majority of the freshwater coming now is from rain and the Caloosahatchee watershed. Very little is actually coming from Lake Okeechobee.

"You'll notice the water clarity this year compared to last year is significantly better than it was," Evans said.

Victoria Raymond from North Fort Myers has noticed some of the improvement.

"I'm seeing a little bit more of the nursery fish out there," she said. "We do a lot of fishing and boating and you don't see the blackness that you've seen last year."

But Raymond and Evans can agree with Ceballos that there is still room for improvement.

"Fix it please," Ceballos said. Please fix it. That's all we ask."

Be mindful of summertime algal blooms, report them to FDEP

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Department of Health are encouraging residents and visitors to be mindful during summertime recreational activities as the season’s high temperatures, abundant sunlight and frequent rainstorms annually increase the presence of algal blooms in certain Florida waterbodies. Individuals should avoid contact with algae and can report algal blooms using DEP’s toll-free hotline (855-305-3903) and online at (www.reportalgalbloom.com). Currently there are no health advisories or any reason to believe the health of residents has been impacted.

State Surgeon General and Secretary of Health Dr. Celeste Philip said “The health and safety of Florida families is DOH’s number one priority. It is important to avoid coming into contact with any algae and we do not recommend swimming or fishing in areas where algae is seen. We will continue to work with DEP to keep residents, visitors and local officials updated.”

DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein said “DEP encourages residents and visitors to immediately report algal blooms to help us respond as quickly and efficiently as possible. Florida is a national leader in responding to and managing algal blooms. We are committed to working with state and local agencies to ensure the health of Floridians, visitors and our natural resources."

DEP and Florida’s water management districts frequently monitor Florida’s water quality and routinely collect algal bloom samples as soon as they are observed to identify algal type and test for toxicity. In addition, staff are deployed to take additional samples in response to reported blooms – whether from a citizen, other response team agencies or other sources. To keep residents and visitors informed of the latest algal bloom monitoring results and activities, DEP has a website where it posts the dates and locations of samples collected. Test results are added as they become available. Persistent blooms are routinely monitored and retested.

Businesses bucked Gov. Rick Scott's rule to notify public about pollution

In April, workers cleaned up 341,000 gallons of raw sewage released because of a pipe break near neighborhoods south of Clermont.

Another 2,000 gallons containing water-purifying chemicals were spilled in June on county property near SeaWorld’s new Aquatica water park.

The two events were among more than two dozen pollution incidents in Central Florida in the first half of the year. None were reported to local media after complaints from industry associations led to a new 24-hour public notice requirement for pollution spills — sparked by a Polk County spill — to be overturned.

But the judge’s decision led to a new law that open-government advocate Barbara Petersen said is an improvement over the situation that existed before the short-lived requirement on polluters. The law allows the media and anyone else to sign up for alerts about pollution incidents, a process that didn’t previously exist.

Controversial Haines City composting facility to stay closed

Resident Katrina Dowdy wishes someone with a camera had been standing outside City Hall following the City Commission’s vote to close a composting facility so that the smile on her father’s face could have been recorded for history.

The controversial BCR Environmental composting plant will not reopen.

Dowdy, her father, Norman Mathews, and other residents have gone before the commission numerous times to complain about the stench and other problems emanating from the composting facility that is near their homes in eastern Haines City.

“I know our commissioners fought like hell to help us out,” Dowdy said. “I appreciate everything they’ve done, and I respect what they’ve done.”

The commission voted 3-0 Thursday night for a settlement agreement that will shutter for good the facility on East Park Road that processes human waste and other material into soil.

Scientists blame northern inflows for current Lake O algae bloom

Scientists working for the South Florida Water Management District presented findings Thursday pointing to inflows north of Lake Okeechobee as the source of nutrients causing recent algae blooms in the lake.

The results show runoff from north of the lake, due to high rain levels and the warm temperature, was the principal cause of the bloom.

The nutrient-rich inflows from Taylor Creek, Kissimmee River, Nubbin Slough, Indian Prairie and Fisheating Creek had chlorophyll levels above the 40 micrograms per liter threshold which indicate algae, with one station in the northern section of the lake measuring in at over 100 micrograms per liter.

Everglades Agricultural Area Farmers, a group representing mainly sugar farmers south of the lake, saw the report as vindication for what they have been telling state lawmakers all along: sugar isn’t the problem, and southern storage isn’t the solution.

“We are seeing the result of what we warned about during session: environmental special interest groups and Senate leaders spent all of their time and energy pushing a myopic plan focused solely on southern storage to put a band aid on a symptom rather than addressing the problem at the source,” EAA spokeswoman Danielle Alvarez said. “And now we’re seeing that algae in the lake remains a problem in a year when water volume and estuary discharges aren’t a problem.”

One slide in the presentation even shows a clear north-to-south progression in algal blooms, with pockets starting to form along the northern coast of Lake Okeechobee June 30, and spreading southward through the end of July.

Water storage south of Lake Okeechobee was one of Senate President Joe Negron’s major legislative priorities in 2017, and he managed to push through the controversial $1.5 billion plan in the closing days of Session.

The legislature didn’t manage to pass any bills focusing on other causes of algal blooms, such as a plan backed by Gov. Rick Scott that would have put $40 million toward converting septic tanks to sewer along the Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee River.

South Florida farmers have cut their phosphorus levels by 70 percent in the past year, and EAA said it’s time for lawmakers to do their part by tackling the problem at the source with a northern water storage and treatment plan.

Second toxic sludge site found in Fort Myers

Neighbors of a Fort Myers community are in disbelief after a second toxic sludge site is uncovered.

When the wastewater was first dumped is still a point of debate, but the dumping did catch the attention of the Department of Environmental Protection.

Low levels of arsenic were discovered in the sludge in the Southwest corner of Ortiz Avenue and MLK Jr. Blvd. City leaders worked with the DEP to designate the area a brownfield, making it eligible for more than $100,000 in grant funding.

Money was awarded on the condition the city clean up the sludge and reuse the property.

Meanwhile, neighbors back on South Street argue the city knew about both properties but decided to take action on the more profitable lot.

Theresa Hamilton built her home 12 years ago, on what used to be a lake. Now her foundation is giving way, leaving cracks along the seams. She fears arsenic found on the sludge property across the street made its way to her property.

Venice officials take issue with report that questions city water quality

A report by a national environmental group that questioned the City of Venice’s water quality has prompted both the city and Sarasota County Health Department to push back, questioning the validity of the the survey’s collection methods.

Both Javier Vargas, the utilities director for the city of Venice, and Ray Burroughs, an environmental specialist at the Sarasota County Health Department who monitors compliance for the water system, stressed that Venice is in compliance with state and federal drinking water requirements.

But that’s not what a database released by the Environmental Work Group appeared to suggest last month.

Nominally EWG, a nonprofit environmental research and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., used its own water quality guidelines to assess tap water between 2010 and 2015.

Port Charlotte Beach Boat Ramp Closing for Repairs Aug. 14

The Port Charlotte Beach Boat Ramp will be closed for renovations Aug. 14-16 for the placement of rip-rap in where washouts are occurring. The boat ramp is anticipated to reopen on Aug. 17. Please use Spring Lake Boat Ramp, 3520 Lakeview Blvd., Port Charlotte. Additional boat ramp locations may be found by visiting the website www.CharlotteCountyFL.gov.

'A ticking time bomb': Toxic algae expected to make a comeback

Experts say it's only a matter of time until the toxic algae makes its return. Although the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon have not been tested positive for toxic algae, Lake Okeechobee has.

“We’re sitting on a ticking time bomb,” said Dr. Zack Jud, the director of Education for the Florida Oceanographic Society. "Conditions in the lake are going to continue to favor algal growth and if we get enough rain to let the discharges that algae bloom is going to end up in our water shed, in our estuaries, just like it did last year.”

Lake Okeechobee is just under 13 feet, which South Florida Water Management District officials say is amazing for this time of year.

However, Jud isn’t surprised. The lake's water levels aren't higher due to a dry winter and spring, according to Jud. “Those dry months allowed our estuary to return to fairly normal solidity levels,” he said.

Jud also added that those dry or good years are crucial for recovery. "We’re looking at an ecosystem that's really at its ecological tipping point," he said. " We're so close to losing all our seagrasses and all of our oyster reefs and when you have multiple bad years in a row -- years with heavy freshwater discharge, years with bad algae blooms -- the ecosystem does not have a chance to recover.”

If the lake was managed like it was years ago, according to Jud, there would be more time. “In the past, if we had a very dry year, the lake dried down naturally," he said. "But today, because the lake is such an important source of water, for crops primarily, the lake is not allowed to get as low as it could get and that low lake is a great buffer for a subsequent wet year."

Jud is hoping the discharge from Lake Okeechobee can hold off a little longer. “This is a drowning victim coming up for a quick breath of air and we just hope that our ecosystem has enough chance to recover this year so it's resilient enough for future bad years,” he said.

The Department of Environmental Protection will continue to test the water in our area for toxic algae.

Activists predict water manager will rise to the occasion

Veteran regulator Ernie Marks takes the reins of the South Florida Water Management District at a pivotal time, says Audubon of Florida’s Eric Draper.

Before he became the district’s Everglades policy coordinator last year, Marks held key positions with the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Department of Environmental Protection.

Draper says Marks’ strong technical background and steady demeanor will be sorely tested. The agency manages 1.5 million acres of land in 16 counties from Orlando to Key West -- and budgets are always tight.

“We’re in a crisis situation with water in South Florida. We move from draught to storms in a matter of months anymore and the infrastructure to handle that is decaying, it’s beyond repair in some cases, and in serious need of investment.”

Draper is confident Marks is up to constructing the massive reservoir lawmakers approved earlier this year to mitigate pollution in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

“IF anyone knows how to actually work with the Army Corps of Engineers to get the thing done, Ernie can do that. Because he has been involved in advancing a number of Everglades restoration projects over the past several years.”

Marks replaces Pete Antonacci, a Scott Administration insider who is leaving to head the governor’s business recruitment arm, Enterprise Florida.

Cape Coral poised to OK $269M phase of utilities project

The city is expected to officially approve construction contracts and loans Wednesday for the next phase of a decades-long utilities project.

But residents aren’t pleased about having to shoulder much of the $269 million cost.

‘First of all they’re compelling you. I don’t think they should,” homeowner Alice Siedelman said. “Everybody in this area I’ve talked to that are homeowners, they don’t want it. So why should we have to pay for something we don’t want?”

The city insists its Utilities Extension Project is essential to establishing and maintaining reliable service to customers. The latest phase will place new water, sewer and irrigation lines in an area north of Pine Island Road.

The cost is $18,000 to each homeowner who pays in advance. Spreading payments out over 20 years, another option for the nearly 9,000 properties affected by the latest phase, increases the cost to $32,000.

Work on this phase is expected to begin later this month and take a year to complete.

Free “Blue Carbon” wetland workshop August 24th

News Image

Blue is the New Green: Including Coastal Wetlands in Sustainability Planning for Florida

WHEN: Thursday, August 24, 2017 (10am to 3pm)

WHERE: 4000 Gateway Centre Blvd, Suite 100, Pinellas Park, FL (Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council)
REGISTRATION: Online at https://flbluecarbonandsustainability.eventbrite.com.
Registration is free. Lunch will be provided.

Coastal wetlands are an integral part of the Florida landscape, providing many benefits to the surrounding community. A newly recognized benefit is the ability of coastal wetlands to address adaptation and resiliency goals through carbon capture (“blue carbon”). Blue carbon presents a new opportunity to address climate adaptation and mitigation, and tap into carbon finance to support coastal restoration through market incentives. Through this workshop, participants will learn:

  • What is blue carbon, and how can coastal wetland restoration support sustainability goals?
  • How coastal wetland restoration can generate revenue and contribute to carbon neutrality
  • Blue carbon in Florida – case studies of realizing blue carbon potential in Tampa and Naples

This workshop is for regional planning council members, sustainability coordinators, economic developers, urban planners, NGOs, resource managers, etc.

Workshop sponsors include: National Estuarine Research Reserve System Science Collaborative, Restore America’s Estuaries, Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, Tampa Bay Estuary Program and Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.

For questions related to this workshop, please contact Stefanie Simpson.

Worrisome algae bloom erupts on Lake Okeechobee

Algae is blooming on Lake Okeechobee, stoking concerns of a more wide-scale bloom that choked nearby waterways with thick green goo in 2016.

So far, the waterways nearest to the lake have been spared as the lake's polluted water has not been discharged because of lower water levels caused by a spring drought, Palm Beach Post reports.

Still, state water officials have identified a "significant" algae bloom on the lake due to high temperatures and polluted inflows into the lake.

The water from the St. Lucie Canal picks up algae-feeding phosphorus, nitrogen and other pollutants from golf courses, farms and residential areas before draining into Lake Okeechobee.

Tests of the canal water this month showed as much as two times the normal amount of phosphorus in the canal's water, the South Florida Water Management District said.

Last year, the algae emergency occurred after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers discharged tens of billions of gallons of lake water into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries after record winter rainfalls swelled the lake.

The resulting algae blooms caused beaches to close, killed marine life and hurt the local tourism economy.

President Trump's budget would eliminate Florida's Healthy Beaches bacteria monitoring

Time and money may be running out for the program that tells you if it's safe to go to the beach.

President Donald Trump's proposed budget for 2018 would eliminate funding for Environmental Protection Agency grants that pay for the Florida Healthy Beaches program, which measures bacteria from fecal contamination at beaches and rivers.

The state health department has received $495,000 from the EPA to fund the program until Aug. 1, spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said in an email. The state is scheduled to receive $445,000 to pay for it until August 2018.

"We have not received word that our grant will be affected after the grant cycle in 2018," Gambineri wrote. "Should the grant opportunity not continue in the future, the department will consider alternative funding options."

The health department's county offices conduct the tests and post the results on their websites. In 2016, the Florida Healthy Beaches Program posted 153 avoid-water advisories.

The tests measure levels of enteric bacteria, which inhabit the intestinal tracts of humans and animals.The bacteria in water is an indication of fecal pollution.

Ingesting or contacting contaminated water can cause upset stomach, diarrhea, eye irritation and skin rashes.

State delegation asks Corps of Engineers to stay neutral in water wars

Florida's two senators and its entire congressional delegation are asking the president to ensure that a federal agency remains neutral in the ongoing court battle between Florida and Georgia over water use from the Apalachicola River system.

Gov. Rick Scott in 2013 filed a lawsuit in the U. S. Supreme Court against Georgia claiming that the upstream state's water use caused the collapse of Apalachicola Bay's oyster population. In February, special master Ralph Lancaster recommended that the court throw out the case because the Army Corps of Engineers, which operates reservoirs upstream from Florida on the Chattahoochee River, was not a party to lawsuit.

Study of freshwater turtles to improve treatment of toxins in sea turtles

New research is paying off long-term for endangered sea turtles facing illness and even death during Florida red tides. From 2011-2014, the NCCOS sponsored project “Brevetoxin Metabolism and Physiology – A Freshwater Model of Morbidity in Endangered Sea Turtles” used non-endangered freshwater turtles as models to determine the effects of Florida red tide on endangered sea turtles.

Karenia brevis, the Florida red tide organism, produces a suite of nerve toxins called brevetoxins. The toxins cause human respiratory illness along beaches and accumulate in shellfish, which, when consumed by humans, cause Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning. Severe blooms result in mass mortality of fish and a number of protected and endangered species. Among the species impacted are threatened and endangered sea turtles.

With sea turtles, brevetoxin concentrations that compromise organ physiological and immune functions are generally unknown. Due to the legal status of federally protected sea turtles, basic physiological questions cannot be addressed directly, as they require experimental investigation with controlled doses of toxins on healthy animals. The use of freshwater turtles as a surrogate physiological system allows for the determination of effects of brevetoxins on turtle physiology and immunology and helps develop effective treatment plans for sea turtles.

Led by Dr. Sarah Milton (Florida Atlantic University) and co-lead Dr. Catherine Walsh (Mote Marine Laboratory), the research project used freshwater turtles to identify how red tide toxin gets into turtles, how long it stays, and the impacts on organs such as the lungs, muscles, and nervous system. The research continued beyond 2014 with funding from the U. S. National Institutes of Health and other agencies.

Burnt Store Isles perimeter channel dredge project update (7/25)

The City of Punta Gorda contractor, Brance Diversified, continues the maintenance dredging of the perimeter channel in the Burnt Store Isles subdivision (work will occur seven days a week as weather and equipment operation permit). The hydraulic dredge is in the vicinity of 595 Macedonia Drive and will progress north along the perimeter channel. A second dredge will begin dredging adjacent to 600-606 Zafra Court and will progress north to the completion point at Terin Court. Boaters should expect navigational delays and need to exercise caution in the vicinity of the work and may contact the company workers through channel 78 on the VHF radio. The hydraulic dredge adjacent to Macedonia Drive will be located in the perimeter channel and will have up to 4,000 feet of 12 inch discharge pipe leading to the spoil locations. The second barge will be a mechanical dredge (barge mounted excavator) that will be relocating the spoil material from the sides of the channel to the deeper center or to areas deeper than 6 feet below mean low water. The spoil will be discharged directly into the canal system as required by the State/Federal permits.

The current spoil location is the basin between Macedonia Drive and San Massimo Drive which is surrounded by turbidity screens. Boaters should contact Joost Derijk (952-999-3122), Bryant Smith (352-283-5882), or Seth Mayhall (337-793-6740) to schedule their exit and reentry through the work area.

Residents shall not direct the dredge work in any way. For additional information on this project, please contact City Project Manager, Gary Disher, Punta Gorda Public Works Department at (941) 575-5021 between the business hours of 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday thru Friday.

Could a byproduct of chip manufacturing be the next big thing in coastal conservation?

Have you heard the one about the potato and the oyster? It’s not a joke, but a game-changing technology -- a three-dimensional grid made from potato starch -- that has the potential to help reverse the decline of the world’s oyster reefs. It might not have the sexiest of names and it hasn’t even been fully tested yet, but Biodegradable EcoSystem Engineering Elements (otherwise known as BESE-elements) is already making waves in the world of coastal conservation.

The problem is that, as vital as they are, oyster beds are in serious decline. Like the balding, gray-suited film directors at the Oscars, oysters don’t get as much press as the colorfully coutured stars (coral reefs). But they are equally endangered. Over the last two centuries, 85% of the world’s oyster habitat has disappeared. Coastal run-off, natural predators, disease and over-harvesting have taken a toll. Oyster reefs that once grew 100 feet deep in some areas have been all-but eradicated by oyster dredges. “The health of our estuaries hangs in the balance,” says Birch. “The importance of restoring oyster reefs cannot be over emphasized.”

Birch has been a part of the solution since 2005 when she began managing the Conservancy’s Indian River Lagoon Restoration project. Charged with replenishing the lagoon’s oyster reefs, she was struck by the community support she received. “Until then I had no idea how charismatic oysters are. In the seven years I worked in the lagoon,” she remembers, “we attracted over 25,000 volunteers. Adults, school children, the disabled…people from all walks of life and abilities came out to help replenish the lagoon’s oyster beds, making and deploying oyster mats (a mesh with oyster shells attached, designed to attract baby oysters and become the foundation of a reef).”

Florida communities prepare for sea level rise, potential costs to local economy

Imagine: $16 billion of local coastal property permanently underwater, including up to 30,000 homes. Property tax rolls slashed by more than $250 million. Tens of thousands of coastal jobs displaced or lost, cutting upwards of $161 billion from the Tampa Bay regional economy. Waterfront parks and infrastructure washed away or made obsolete.

“It’s a statement of the problem,” explains Brady Smith, a planner at the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. “One could say the problem is sea level rise. What does that mean, exactly? What are our vulnerabilities?”

“The Cost of Doing Nothing,” a study released earlier this year by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, paints a striking economic portrait of how rising sea levels might transform the area’s economy by 2060 if Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Manatee county communities fail to take more measures to reduce their flood risk.

The idea behind the report? To equip local communities with a more tangible understanding of what may be at stake as seas rise.

Sea level rise is accelerating in Florida, scientists warn

Clay Henderson has lived on the same block along the Indian River in New Smyrna Beach for 34 years. Living in a storm-prone state like Florida, you expect to see a river top its bank on occasion, but only in the past two years has Henderson seen it happen on sunny days.

He hears similar stories almost everywhere he travels in Florida. In dozens of locations along the state's 1,350-mile coastline, sea level rise is no longer an esoteric discussion or a puzzle for future generations to solve. It's happening now and is forecast to worsen over the next 20 to 30 years.

Canal systems in Fort Lauderdale and Coral Gables have become a liability. For officials in Port Orange and Longboat Key, fortifying storm drains against encroaching seawater is a concern. Along the Withlacoochee River on Florida's Gulf Coast and the Matanzas River at Marineland, residents report finding saltwater species they've never seen before in those waterways.

Venice Pier is spotless: Suncoast Reef Rovers are keeping it clean

News Image

The entire Gulf beach under the Venice Fishing Pier is clean thanks to the work of the Suncoast Reef Rovers of Venice and their many friends. A team of divers and helpers descended on Brohard Beach on Saturday July 15, 2017 to remove underwater debris from a spot that is very popular with families, fishers and beach lovers.

Thanks to the many groups who helped, including Florida Underwater Sports, Sarasota Bay Watch, Venice Police, Venice Police Citizen Volunteers, Sharky’s Restaurant, Reelcycle, the City of Venice and NAUI Green Diver. It was a fun group of people who enjoyed good company and perfect weather during the event.

The good news is that the pier was pretty clean. The divers had to search to find debris – and they got ALL of it. Wow! There were 27 SCUBA divers assisted by 24 “topsiders” on land, 4 student volunteers, and three boats.

Interesting marine debris was found such as sunglasses, a guitar pick, $20, a man’s ring, and a cell phone along with the more typical stuff - anchors, traps, rope, knives, lures, line, and rods & reels that altogether added up to 141 pounds of waste.

The successful event concluded with a generously discounted selection of delicious lunches provided by Sharky’s on the Pier.

The water was clear, Florida Underwater Sports brought the doughnuts and the divers even found a few sharks teeth.

DEP rejects city plan for toxic Dunbar site

The Department of Environmental Protection on Tuesday rejected the City of Fort Myers' proposed test plan for its toxic lime sludge site in Dunbar.

Purchased in 1962 to dispose of water treatment waste, the lots bounded by Henderson Avenue and South Street were unfenced and minimally tested, exposing children to toxic soil and families to polluted runoff until a News-Press report spurred the city and DEP into action

In a memo to City Manager Saeed Kazemi, the DEP stated that its review of the plan showed the city did not meet all of the requirements under its regulations.

It catalogued over a dozen issues that must be addressed.

The plan developed by GFA International omitted tests for federal and state primary and secondary drinking water contaminants.

Captiva Plan, wastewater, Captiva Drive still under discussion

The final touches to the Captiva Plan are underway. According to David Mintz, vice president of the Captiva Community Panel, the panel is finishing the plan which started in 2014.

"The plan still has to go through the LPA (Local Planning Agency) process, then it gets sent up to the state the county commissioners for their approval," Mintz said.

For the Captiva Community Plan, the panel added back in the land use regulations language which includes preserving the shoreline and its natural habitats, enhancing water quality, encouraging the use of native vegetation, maintaining the mangrove fringe, limiting noise, light, water and air pollution and enforcing the standards that maintain one and two story building heights and the historic low-density development pattern of Captiva.

On Policy 13.1.1, the panel put back in the language which says the plan will protect mangroves to the greatest extent possible. On 13.1.2, which concerns Blind Pass, maintains it to remain an open Blind Pass.