How Red Tide is Devastating the Environment and People in Southwest Florida
by Ellen Decker
July 27, 2018
Animals are washing up dead in Southwest Florida, and residents are battling respiratory problems. There is a growing environmental and human health threat in the region, and more must be done to help.
Toxic algae blooms are making even healthy people have difficulty breathing and killing marine life in Southwest Florida. It is especially bad this year because the Caloosahatchee River has more harmful green algae, phosphorus and nitrogen than ever from “releases” from Lake Okeechobee (Lake O), and the Summer South and Southwest winds blow this into the Gulf Red Tide algae, growing it into a monster killer.
Thousands of fish, sea turtles, pelicans, sharks and even manatees are washing up dead in Southwest Florida. Throughout the region, people are reporting respiratory and gastrointestinal problems. Businesses are suffering. This has become a significant environmental and public health threat.
Most people in Southwest Florida are aware of the Red Tide. Most agree that it has been in the Gulf of Mexico for a long time. Long-time residents say it is getting worse. Many things cause it to grow, including the nutrients phosphorous and nitrogen. These are found in fertilizer among other things and are being sent by the gallons down the Caloosahatchee from Lake O.
People in Southwest Florida are angry because they can’t breathe, they’re losing business, property values are going down, they can’t let their kids go outside, and they fear for their drinking water. Most are mad at Big Sugar because they think the industry blocks the way for the water to go South, is possibly backwashing into Lake O, influences the releases from Lake O, is unhealthy and drives up health care costs, has huge plantations, and controls politicians with its contributions. Sugar’s main reply is that Lake O gets water, phosphorus, and nitrogen from the Kissimmee River Valley from theme parks, lawns, golf courses, and large cattle ranches.
Lake O water levels are controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers. They follow orders, take care of water levels and try not to let the dike break. When they release water to the west it goes into the Caloosahatchee River, creating clogs of lime and blue-green algae. Tests for Cyanobacteria have shown it is found in there too.
There are many people watching the releases from Lake O. People share pictures and videos on social media of the massive algae blooms that result from it. People who live on, or in a canal off of the Caloosahatchee River, at the mouth of the river in Fort Myers where it comes out into the Gulf, or on the barrier islands to the north and south of the mouth, have shared pictures and videos of the algae and dead marine life resulting from the river releases.
This year, within 24 hours of a large release, reports from the barrier islands including Sanibel, Boca Grande, and Manasota Key showed massive fish kills, including endangered species and mammals. By the way, people are mammals too! Lake O releases were temporarily stopped when Governor Rick Scott came and declared a state of emergency. When he left, another large release was documented. Within 24 hours, another massive fish kill, including endangered species and mammals, occurred on the barrier islands.
People who are normally healthy can’t leave their homes unless they wear goggles and masks. I recently called to check on an elderly neighbor who lives in a condo on the bayside of Manasota Key. She said she can smell it even with the doors and windows shut. People can’t afford to move or leave.
Solutions have been discussed. Now they need to be implemented. No one’s profits should be at the expense of the health and well-being of other people and the environment.