A good sized crowd gathered at the Metro Cafe, Thursday, September 29, 2005 at 7 pm for the open discussion about red tide and the dead zones in theGulf of Mexico.
Jude Levy opened with her concerns as a resident of many years who loves to swim in the Gulf. In the past, the converation about Red Tide (Karenia brevis) has been a topic for the scientists, but the health of the sea affects us all and we all have contributed to the current sad situation. This is the longest running red tide outbreak in recorded history and there is no let up in sight. (It started last December!)
Whether you live near the beach, like to walk on the beach, swim, fish, snorkel, sail or bird watch - all of these activities make Sarasota a special place to be. With a lifeless sea and an eye burning breezes, tourists leave, residents leave, fishing activities leave - there is a vast ripple effect from red tide and dead zones.
Allan Horton moderated the discussion. He's a lifelong resident of Florida, retired from the Herald Tribune, writing Waterlines for the Pelican Press. His background in environmental science and experience boating on the waters up and down the coast made him the perfect balance for a conversation which honored all points of view.
Let's open with some red tide facts. The organism produces a toxin that can affect the central nervous system of fish, birds, mammals and other animals. In high concentrations, our particular type sometimes discolors the water red. Various types of red tides occur around the globe. Red tide was first officially recorded in Florida in 1844 but mentions of it are in the conquistador diaries and there is petrified proof it was here long before that, right here in Sarasota County. No one factor causes it. But it requires warmth, oxygen and nutrients to bloom for it is always in the water and the sediment. Those nurturing factors occur naturally.
But our human activity has to be supplementing those ingedients expoentially! We already have good evidence that we are making it worse and extending the outbreaks. And, the dead zone is a new phenomena for us and it is truly frightening. It may cover 8,000 sq. miles already. Read Allan Horton's Waterlines in this week's Pelican Press for his take on red tide.
When he and others attended the Mote lecture there was a slide show which indicated "minorities" need to be educated on this topic. The slide showed various brown children. Allan suggested that the minorities who really need education are the elected officials who have the power to fund the research to come up with a solution to this problem. First participant who spoke felt strongly that the current situation is caused by dredging, dredging the channels, dredging for beaches. He also implicated fertilizers in runoff. He finds the renourishment of beaches a serious miscalculation in several ways: 1) they clog up the the passes as the sand washes off beaches and 2) they smother the life on shore and close to shore, 3) who knows what damage is done to bottom life from the dredged up points and 4) it's expensive! $21 million spent to renourish the beaches. He would like to see Terry Gibbons invited to speak tocommissioners about this. It was mentioned that it was the common wisdom that hurricanes cleaned out the waters. Countered with, yes, but, Sarasota hasn't experienced a frontal hurricane in over 40 years.
The next person mentioned the toxic soup dumped by the Mulberry Corp. He lives on Palmolo Place and has seen raw sewage spills while the government entities in charge looked the other way. He thinks the many Venice, Sarasota and Bradenton raw sewage spills have played a part in feeding red tide. He wonders what will get the City and County commissioners attention- dropping land values perhaps.
Chair of the Manatee-Sarasota Sierra Club says her group has been actively speaking up about nitrogen runoff for a long time and have been ignored. The Sierra Club plans a large public meeting in January 2006 (at Sudakoff) with a panel including Larry Brand who has been doing independent study of the problem (he's a professor from Miami). We can not wait for the research to do something, she said. There is so much going into the Gulf it is a puzzle but we can do some things. We should stop runoff into ourwaterways now. That's a place to start. We can't wait for all the studies. Each person can do something - by giving up green grass, for instance.
Allan reminded everyone that the major rivers emptying into the Gulf bring their own sets of discharges, esp. rivers like the Mississippi, so a wideview of stewardship is necessary, too.
Lifelong resident, Don Chaney, son of a commercial fisherman, remembers red tide when he was a child. There was dredging then, too. The intracoastal was dredged. Arvida filled in Bird Key with dredged sediment from Sarasota Bay. He, too, went to the Mote meeting and was impressed with the professor from USF. He provided handouts with a summary of his presentation. Last weekend he sailed from Sarasota to Tampa Bay. There was some marine life in the Manatee River but otherwise, only dead fish and lethargic seabirds. Returning on Monday the red tide was the worst. He has never seen anything like this outbreak and the one he remembers from the 50s was bad. He believes that the fertilizers washing into the waters is the most important contributing factor. He thinks there are things we can do besides stop using fertilizer; we can stop the destruction of wetlands which cleanse contributing waters, hold storm water runoff, etc. If we don't take care of our ecology, our ecology won't take care of us. The Gulf of Mexico provides jobs and resources beyond measure. It is worth any money spent to repair its health.
Mr. Schneider, who has a scientific background, feels that most of the information on red tide is speculative. He thinks we need more scientific research to solve this problem. Let's direct money to Mote to do job. Encourage the legislatures to give more money for marine research.
Joe Shane, editor of local newspaper, said he had a aha! moment when he was thinking about red tide and last year's hurricane season. Millions of gallons of phosphate waste were spilled out of the Hillsborough River and that created a plume, spread by the hurricane which set off this long run of red tide.
Jack Anderson said he has seen those phosphate mines and they are toxic cesspools. He's from Kentucky and he knows of what he speaks. A man identifying himself as a scientist reflected that he hopes there are scientists at this gathering. This is a biological problem which requires a biological solution. He did concede that higher temperatures (globalwarming) and sewage spills may be exacerbating the bloom.
Ginger from the Sierra Club contributed that algal blooms need oxygen and phosphorous. And there are already rich natural phosphorous deposits along our coast and inland feeding into the Gulf.
Allan sees coal fired power plants as contributors. And as for solutions, he urged caution. We need to be careful and not make the situation worse by rushing in with "solutions". Many of our past solutions for problems haunt us to this day, like introducing white punk trees to dry up wetlands (they are now a statewide noxious plant).
Ed from Siesta Key has lived here for ten years. This cure needs to be magically accelerated, he asserted. Mote is only doing research, collecting data, not finding a cure. Where will funds for a cure come from? He was glad to see Jon Thaxton (Sarasota County Commissioner) and Ken Shelin (Sarasota City Commissioner) at this meeting. He really hopes we aren't at a meeting like this one three years from now saying the samethings.
The editor thinks all the affected business, tourist service industry, restaurants, beach motels should get together and press a class action suit against the phosphate industry for their dumping and spills. Then they could prove they are not implicated (their stance without substantial evidence to back it up) and pay for the research.
Sylvia Blanco shared that she has asthma and this outbreak is very much affecting her health. She'd like to see the statistics on visits to the local hospitals for respritory complaints. This needs to be documented. Rob Bolesta of the health department said that Sarasota Memorial and Mote Marine Lab are gathering this data. There is a 54% increase during red tide outbreaks for people along the coastal areas. It basically affects upper respiratory system - eyes, nose, etc. but asthmatics are more sensitive to the red tide toxin.
Websites to check: Mote and the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. He and his staff just spent two days at a "harmful algal bloom" workshop in St. Pete. So far the concern over red tide has been "fragmented" there needs to be a coalition and it is long overdue for the public to be involved, educated. Up to now, it's been the purview of Fish & Wildlife, Mote, USF, other govt. entities. Sarasota and Manateee have the highest concentration of red tide in recent history.
Citizens are upset and want to be involved, want to do something. Red tide tends to start in the center of the Gulf and then blows into shore. He mentioned citizen responsibility and stewardship. Everyone must learn more. From a public health standpoint, he says the health department is trying to get out information. He brought handouts. Sarasota County is looking at involving the public more. The health department samples 16 beaches throughout Sarasota County weekly. There have been no beach advisories this year for high bacteria. After the problems at Siesta Beach last year, community activists rallied and became involved and this has helped the situation. He felt that community coalitions have helped stop the raw sewage spills. He reminded everyone that pets are at risk at the beach, too. The sea foam has ten times the toxins found in the water. He is hopeful we can all work together to find solutions. We can all do something now by reducing nutrient runoff. There's lots of talent and expertise right here in our community if we would band together. Another website: www.RedTideOnline.com
Someone wondered if there have been any scientific studies on the long term effects of red tide on healthy people. Rob B. didn't know of any. A woman wondered if the city and county sewer lines were adequate and why did they allow sewage dumps during heavy rains. How can runaway growth be adequately serviced? Rob B. said that rainfall dumps are regulated by EPAand state standards. That the infrastructure is aging and failing and has to be replaced.
Brian, a young man of 30, said he lost part of his lung due to red tide. We watch manatees, porpoises and turtles die. How many people have to die to get some attention, he wanted to know? Why not close the beaches since this is a health hazard? Rob B. mentioned that over the counter antihistamines help with red tide symptoms.
Question: Has red tide mutated? It seems more virulent. Rob B. No. But continous exposure compromises the immune system and the body is less able to recover. Repeated exposure will worsen symptoms. Rob B. - Sarasota County is talking about posting warning flags at the beaches. Someone suggested SNN could have a beach report (where tides and temps are now) so folks could know the situation before driving out the beaches. Rob B.thinks the report would change not only day to day but hour to hour as the prevailing winds dispurse it. He hopes a red tide program could be instituted on Channel 19. There needs to be a multi-media approach to getting out information.
Marty Sanger noted that red tide is a national problem not just a local one and the national government right now is working actively to decrease waterand air quality. This is a problem in terms of attention for marine health funding.
Member of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce said there's a subcommittee at the Chamber on red tide research. So far the response has been reactive instead of proactive. He didn't know if the County was seeking a cure. He represents 135 small accommodations owners and they are sitting there with empty rooms because the tourists are staying away.
Gayle Reynolds, chair of the conservation committee of the Sarasota Sierra Club, says what is missing in this conversation is the massive effects of development. We are paving over our wetlands, cutting down trees, allowing runoff from impervious surfaces. There should be a moratorium on coastal development.
Speaking of the need for trees to absorb runoff, keep in mind that the City is finalizing its downtown code and will decide if arcades will be included in the downtown Main Street redevelopment guidelines. Where there are arcades, there are no trees. Let's see: trees to absorb runoff, cool the air, create breezes, clean up the air, soften the concrete canyon or cement arcades which hunker out to the curb, cover public sidewalks, create heat sinks in the summer, give the builder more usable space above them for free. If you would like to vote for trees downtown, call the city commissioners and the planningdepartment. 954-4115.
Kate of Laurel Park advised the continuation of research. There are lots of contributing factors like global warming, but phosphate is the biggy. State and local governments can do something about the phosphate industry's outfall and this would be a start. (By the way, most of the phosphate is shipped out of this country and notused in the U.S. at all.)
Susan Masterson's contribution was that now is the time to create acoalition, get all the interested groups together and create one large meeting. Let's start a petition drive. Create a voting block. There is power in numbers.
Allan concluded that over the past sixty years, the population growth in this area has increased ten fold! With this increase in population, the degradation of the Gulf has proceeded at a pace for years. But, now we are at a serious time - as Pogo observed: We have seen the Enemy and (s)he is Us!A question from someone who couldn't attend: Please ask - what if THIS redtide is permanent?
Submitted by Jude Levy