Water-Related News

Red tide kills manatee, closes shellfish harvest area & continues to sicken wildlife

SANIBEL ISLAND — A conservation group released a detailed report of how Lake Okeechobee flows and red tide continues to batter coastlines and estuaries in Southwest Florida.

The report from the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Commission reviews data from January 12 -18 and explains how the current conditions affect the health, productivity, and function of the Caloosahatchee River and its estuary.

Although flows from Lake Okeechobee are within SCCF’s optimum flow level, a patchy red tide bloom continues to cause multiple fish kills, injure wildlife and irritate people’s respiratory systems.

It is worth noting, however, that crews in Sanibel have reported a decrease in the frequency and severity of fish kills.

Water clarity and salinity are making improvements around Sanibel and Cape Coral, which is good news for seagrass growth and animals who live in the Caloosahatchee estuary.

Florida unveils new statewide sea rise mapping tool

The tool is part of a new law taking effect July 1 that calls for projects using state money to conduct studies on damage and costs tied to sea rise. Critics say the law falls short by not requiring fixes.

Florida environmental regulators say they are creating the state’s first uniform sea rise level projections as part of a new law to better prepare coastal projects paid for with state money.

A draft version of the new mapping tool was unveiled Tuesday as part of a workshop on rules to implement the law.

The tool incorporates projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, already widely used in South Florida, and expands them all along Florida’s oceanfront coast. It does not include rivers, canals or many bays already hit by tidal flooding.

“This will be the first time that we get to establish a uniform signal across the state of what sea level rise projections should be,” said Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valentstein. “It's really a strong state signal that we're taking the impacts of climate change seriously.”

State officials have been working since August with Jacksonville-based Taylor Engineering to have the tool ready by July 1, when the law is scheduled to take effect.

Save the date for Florida macroalgae virtual workshops

Florida Macroalgae: Knowledge Gaps and How We Can Fill Them
Virtual Workshops on March 29 & 31 and April 2, 2021

Macroalgae are components of healthy Florida estuaries, but excessive blooms can have negative ecosystem consequences. In recent years, multiple blooms of drift macroalgae in Florida estuaries have raised concerns about damage to seagrass habitats and water quality implications. Yet frameworks to manage the nutrients that support these blooms seldom include macroalgae as indicators of water quality. Three virtual workshops will convene in March and April 2021 to share information, facilitate discussions, and guide future efforts to manage marine macroalgae.

The workshops will be based on information from the study areas of four National Estuary Programs in Florida (Charlotte Harbor, Indian River Lagoon, Sarasota Bay, and Tampa Bay).

Complete this form to receive registration information when it becomes available.

Draft Agenda

  • Monday, March 29 | 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM EST
    State of Our Knowledge: Marine Macroalgae in Florida’s National Estuary Programs
    Invited speaker presentations
  • Wednesday, March 31 | 9:00 AM - 3:00 PM EST
    Drivers & Consequences of Marine Macroalgal Blooms in Florida
    Identifying & Addressing Gaps in Our Knowledge
    Invited speaker presentations & facilitated discussions
  • Friday, April 2 | 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM EST
    Marine Macroalgae and Management of Nutrients
    Invited speaker presentations & workshop synthesis

Event Contact
Darcy Young, Sarasota Bay Estuary Program
darcy@sarasotabay.org or (941) 955-8085

Public meeting scheduled to discuss Lake Hancock Trail System

A public meeting to discuss the multipurpose trails and construction projects around Lake Hancock will be held from 2:30 to 3 p.m. on Saturday Jan. 23 at the large picnic pavilion at Circle B Bar Reserve, 4399 Winter Lake Road in Lakeland.

The public meeting is to encourage public discussion about the development of a system of interconnecting trails around and radiating outward from Lake Hancock. The multipurpose trails will potentially connect to Lakeland, Mulberry, Bartow, Winter Haven, and Highland City.

Public participation is solicited without regard to race, color, national origin, age, sex, religion, disability, or family status. A copy of the agenda may be obtained by contacting: tracymullins@polk-county.net.

Red Tide respiratory forecast is expanding with federal grants

The Red Tide Respiratory Forecast has received $653,960 to “get more microscopes in more hands on more beaches.” The funds will also help to expand detection of other toxic algae species.

Thanks to federal grants, a forecast that helps predict where red tide will produce respiratory issues will reach more Gulf Coast beaches.

State wildlife officials reported Wednesday that a red tide bloom is still causing problems in Southwest Florida.

High concentrations are being found in Lee and Collier counties. Fish kills and respiratory irritations related to the bloom have been reported offshore of Lee and Collier, as well.

Red tide can cause coughing, runny nose and eye irritation.

To see if their beaches are safe, residents and beachgoers can check an online respiratory forecast from the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Red Tide Respiratory Forecast helps people along the coast know where and when to expect those symptoms.

It was initially established and tested in Pinellas County in 2018. Today, it includes more than 20 Gulf Coast beaches.

Rick Stumpf, an oceanographer who led the development of the forecast, said it’s been demanding and exhausting work to take water samples every day and transport them back to a laboratory to then study them under a microscope.

But a press release said they’ve built a system called HABscope, a portable microscope system that uses video and artificial intelligence to quickly analyze water samples for near real-time cell counts of Karenia brevis, the organism that causes red tide in the Gulf of Mexico.

A microscope, with an iPod touch attached to it, can be taken directly to the beach and be monitored by a volunteer citizen scientist right then and there.

The program recently received federal grants from NOAA NCCOS MERHAB and IOOS to expand its coverage and make improvements over the next three years.

"One part of this program is to get that effort up and running and running smoothly so we have a reliable set of volunteers who can return the data. The other is we're expanding it to Texas. They also get these red tides, they're not just in Florida," said Stumpf.

The goal is to be able to monitor every beach every day, he said.

"Part of the offer too is to make it the system stable enough that GCOOS can continue running it into the future. This is a transition of getting all the research pieces put together in a way that it's actually sustainable, so it could run long term,” said Stumpf.

He said they hope to better detail where the blooms are, where high concentrations are, and the wind patterns for the coming 36 hours.

Although, the red tide organism Karenia brevis is not the only harmful algae the group plans to monitor with this grant money, said Barbara Kirkpatrick, Executive Director of GCOOS and an environmental health scientist who conducted the first studies about red tide bloom impacts on human health.

Pyrodinium bahamense is another toxic dinoflagellate that occurs in Florida’s estuaries,” said Kirkpatrick in a press release.

“It produces saxitoxin — one of the deadliest natural toxins in the world — and it can be a public health risk in recreational fisheries. It can also cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), which causes closures of shellfish harvesting. If we can use HABscope to test for other toxins, we can increase the benefits to the public across even more sectors.”

Environmental groups ask judge to throw out EPA decision to let Florida oversee wetlands permitting

Seven environmental groups asked a judge Thursday to throw out the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to give the state control of wetlands permitting.

The environmental groups say Florida's application was riddled with errors and the EPA violated the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedures Act when it handed Florida control of wetlands permitting last month.

“There are such unreasonable things in the way EPA has acted in this case that I'd be surprised if any other EPA looking at it would have reached the same conclusion,” said Tania Galloni, managing attorney for Earthjustice’s Florida Office.

Wetlands clean and recharge the state’s water supply and Florida has lost more wetlands than any other state in the country — more than 9 million acres, according to federal estimates. Florida asked the EPA to take over issuing permits for about 11 million remaining acres of wetlands in August and became just the third state in the U.S. to administer the cumbersome process. Michigan took control of its wetlands permitting in 1984 and New Jersey assumed control in 1994.

Florida began seriously considering assuming control in 2005, when state legislators voted to move forward with the plan. But the attempt stalled later that year when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection concluded it would be better off expanding its own program and taking over the federal permitting would bog down the process.

Public invited to help identify flood-prone areas in the Haines City watershed

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) is gathering information to improve identification of flood prone areas in Polk County.

The District will provide a virtual public comment period now through March 5 at WaterMatters.org/Floodplain for the public to view preliminary data for flood prone areas within the Haines City Watershed. The website will present preliminary data for flood prone areas and the public will have the opportunity to submit comments.

After addressing the public comments, information will be finalized and presented to the District’s Governing Board for approval to use the data for regulatory purposes. This information is not currently being incorporated into the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps (DFIRMs); however, it may be used in future DFIRM updates.

The information, which identifies areas prone to flooding, can be used by local governments for land use and zoning decisions, to help manage development in and around floodplains and wetlands, to reduce flood risks, to preserve land and water resources, and for emergency planning. It will also provide valuable information to the public for decisions about purchasing and protecting property.

For more information or to find out which watershed you live in, please visit WaterMatters.org/Floodplain or call the District at (352) 796-7211, ext. 4297.

How red tide is impacting estuaries in southwest Florida

SANIBEL — A red tide bloom is plaguing coastlines from Captiva to South Marco Beach, and the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation released a report about the state of Southwest Florida shorelines.

The SCCF Caloosahatchee and Estuary conditions report uses data that was collected from Jan. 5 to 11.

Flows to the Caloosahatchee estuary have been within the optimum levels for the past 11 days, according to the report. However, a red tide bloom continues to cause multiple fisk kill events, kill and injure other wildlife, and cause respiratory issues for people.

Since Jan. 5, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Fish Kill Hotline received four reports in Lee County related to red tide.

Scientist says cutbacks on Lake O releases will improve Caloosahatchee ecosystem

As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cuts back on water releases from Lake Okeechobee feeding into Southwest Florida, we decided to look at whether this will help the Caloosahatchee River bounce back Wednesday.

Over the past weekend, it was clearly visible where freshwater from the Caloosahatchee met the Gulf. Darker water is a mixture of lake water and runoff, but a plume is expected to recede as dry season begins.

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation works to protect the environment for all to enjoy. It plays a big role in restoring parts of the ecosystem such as oyster and seagrass beds.

“We’ve been getting excess amounts of freshwater for a number of months, and it’s been really affecting the seagrass and the oysters,” said Richard Bartleson, a research scientist with SCCF.

Now that we’re getting less freshwater from Lake Okeechobee releases, Bartleson says the ecosystem can recover.

“The grass that’s there can grow much faster when it’s not being stressed every low tide by low salinity water,” Bartleson said.

The SCCF scientist says there will be quick changes to water conditions.

One-third of America’s rivers have changed color since 1984

America’s rivers are changing color — and people are behind many of the shifts, a new study said.

One-third of the tens of thousands of mile-long (two kilometer-long) river segments in the United States have noticeably shifted color in satellite images since 1984. That includes 11,629 miles (18,715 kilometers) that became greener, or went toward the violet end of the color spectrum, according to a study in this week’s journal Geographical Research Letters. Some river segments became more red.

Only about 5% of U.S. river mileage is considered blue — a color often equated with pristine waters by the general public. About two-thirds of American rivers are yellow, which signals they have lots of soil in them.

But 28% of the rivers are green, which often indicates they are choked with algae. And researchers found 2% of U.S. rivers over the years shifted from dominantly yellow to distinctly green.

“If things are becoming more green, that’s a problem,” said study lead author John Gardner, a University of Pittsburgh geology and environmental sciences professor. Although some green tint to rivers can be normal, Gardener said, it often means large algae blooms that cause oxygen loss and can produce toxins.

The chief causes of color changes are farm fertilizer run-off, dams, efforts to fight soil erosion and man-made climate change, which increases water temperature and rain-related run-off, the study authors said.

“We change our rivers a lot. A lot of that has to do with human activity,” said study co-author Tamlin Pavelsky, a professor of global hydrology at the University of North Carolina.

Why are so many Florida manatees dying?

A preliminary state tally for 2020 found 619 manatees were killed, up from last year and the second highest number in the last five years.

Add manatee deaths to the list of bad things that happened in 2020.

Despite the COVID-19 shutdown that may have briefly given the lumbering sea cows a break from heavy boat traffic, deaths climbed to 619 last year, according to a preliminary tally from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. That’s the second highest number in five years, behind 2018 when a lethal red tide blanketed the Gulf Coast and killed more than 200.

“As soon as [people] realized that you could socially distance on the water, it swung the other way,” said Patrick Rose, an aquatic biologist and executive director of the Save the Manatee Club. “It went from a bit of a respite to almost literally an overkill.”

Because of the shutdown, necropsies were not performed on about a third of the dead manatees, Rose said. That left biologists to guess the cause of death. But he said they estimate boat strikes killed just over 100, in keeping with the number of boating deaths in recent years.

Rose said that suggests that other worrisome trends — poor water quality and loss of habitat — could be playing a role in increasing numbers.

“Boating is still a critically important factor for manatees, but sadly — and one that as an aquatic biologist and someone working in the field for about 50 years I really didn't think we were going to see — is the levels of concern for the habitat itself,” he said. “With all the red tide, brown tides, blue green algal blooms and just the problems that Florida is facing in terms of water quality and quantity, it's starting to have a very significant impact on loss of seagrass and and food resources for manatees.”

Manatees were removed from the endangered speci

Bonita Springs to receive funds for flood reduction projects

During the FY2019-2020 legislative session, the City of Bonita Springs outlined a request for funds to develop infrastructure plans for the Imperial Bonita Estates/Quinn/Downs/Dean West of Imperial Parkway Area.

The City received notice that legislative funds had been approved for the FY2020 budget year in the amount of $750,000 and council has approved moving forward with contract agreement to accept these funds.

The incoming funds will be managed by Florida Department of Environmental Protection and will be used to develop detailed design plans for a storm sewer with back flow prevention and strategic floodwater storage areas, in order to reduce or eliminate the effects of riverine flooding to the project area

Commercial fishing permits available for Saddle Creek Park

BARTOW – Commercial fishing permits for Saddle Creek Park are now available through Polk County’s Parks and Natural Resources Division.

The permits cost $2,900 and require a $100 non-refundable application fee. The permits authorize commercial fishermen to remove Tilapia and Brown Hoplo from the waterways at Saddle Creek Park.

The permits will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis to the first 10 people that apply, pay and pass the background check. The permits expire December 31.

Application packets may be requested by email at brandygray@polk-county.net , or can be picked-up at the Parks & Natural Resources office, 4177 Ben Durrance Road in Bartow or the Saddle Creek Park office, 3716 Morgan Combee Road, Lakeland. Applications and fees must be hand-delivered at the above-listed locations during office hours.

For more information about obtaining a Polk County Parks & Natural Resources commercial fishing permit, call (863) 534-7377.

Red tide found in Lee, Collier & Charlotte counties

FORT MYERS — In a mid-week red tide update from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, samples show that red tide is present in three Southwest Florida counties.

A bloom of the organism Karenia brevis — commonly called red tide — has been detected in the waters of Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties. The latest satellite images from the University of South Florida and NOAA show that patches of elevated chlorophyll extend up to 35 miles offshore.

  • In Lee County, background to high concentrations of red tide were detected.
  • In Collier County, medium to high concentrations were observed.
  • In Charlotte County, samples showed background to very low concentrations.

Fish kills suspected to be related to red tide were reported in Lee and Collier counties. If you see fish kills along shorelines, CLICK HERE to report it to FWC.

Forecasts by the USF-FWC Collaboration for Prediction of Red Tides predicts variable transport of surface waters in most areas from Pinellas to Monroe County over the next four days.

Fried asks new EPA head to reconsider wetlands move

State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has asked incoming Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan to reconsider a recent EPA decision that shifted federal permitting authority to Florida for projects that affect wetlands.

Fried released a letter Wednesday that she sent to Regan, who has been tapped by President-elect Joe Biden to lead the EPA. Supporters this month praised the Trump administration’s decision to shift the permitting authority to Florida, saying it would help reduce duplicative state and federal permitting and give Florida more control over such decisions.

Florida is only the third state, joining Michigan and New Jersey, that have received the authority, according to the EPA. But some environmentalists have long opposed the move, arguing it would reduce protections for wetlands.

2021 CHNEP Calendars are available now

2021 calendar

The Coastal & Heartland National Estuary Partnership is thrilled to present the 2021 CHNEP Nature Calendar. Over 55 photographers submitted over 150 remarkable images of creatures and landscapes in the CHNEP program area. The Citizens Advisory Committee curated a selection of the photos to illustrate the beauty and diversity of our region. We thank our photographers, subscribers, sponsors, and volunteers for their support! The 2022 Nature Calendar Photo Contest will run from May through July. Please check back in the spring to submit your photos!

If you are subscribed to the CHNEP Harbor Happenings/Calendar mailing list, you will receive your calendar by mail shortly. CHNEP moved to a "subscription only" calendar/newsletter mailing system to be able to maintain this publication in the face of rising costs. You can receive future calendars and quarterly newsletters to your door, at no cost to you, with our free Harbor Happenings subscription.

If you are not a subscriber or subscribed very recently, you can pick up a 2021 calendar at one of the pickup locations listed below.

  • Manatee Downtown Central Library – 1301 Barcarrota Ave, Bradenton, FL 34205
  • Mid County Regional Library – 2050 Forrest Nelson Blvd, Port Charlotte, FL 33952
  • Polk County Library Cooperative – 2150 S Broadway Ave, Bartow, FL 33830
  • Hendry County Library – 110 W Osceola Ave, Clewiston, FL 33440
  • Heartland Library Cooperative – 319 W Center Ave, Sebring, FL 33870
  • Desoto County Library – 125 N Hillsborough Ave, Arcadia, FL 34266
  • Glades County Public Library – 201 Riverside Dr, Moore Haven, FL 33471
  • Hardee County Library – 315 N 6th Ave, Wauchula, FL 33873
  • Punta Gorda City Hall  – 326 W Marion Ave, Punta Gorda, FL 33950

Quantities are limited, and pick-up is on a first come first serve basis. To ensure every family gets a copy, please take one calendar per household.

To become a subscriber, visit the link below:

Venice residents asked to take resilience survey on flood risk

Through a study funded by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Resilient Coastlines Program, the City of Venice is working with Taylor Engineering to perform resilience planning. This project includes a vulnerability assessment for City infrastructure. This assessment consists of three analyses:

  • Exposure – the amount of contact an asset has with a source of stress
  • Sensitivity – the degree of impact and whether there are existing sources of stress; and
  • Adaptive capacity – the asset’s ability to adjust, repair or respond

After this assessment has been conducted, adaption and resilient strategies will be developed for at-risk structures.

The City wants to hear from its citizens, in order to create a more resilient future. Please assist the City by completing a brief Resilience Survey on Understanding Your Flood Risk. This survey can be found at: https://arcg.is/u05Hb.