A recently released academic study validates what many affected Floridians have long suspected: red tides are correlated to and intensified by human activities. Researchers at the University of Florida, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, and Sarasota Bay Estuary Program conducted the study, titled Nitrogen-enriched discharges from a highly managed watershed intensify red tide (Karenia brevis) blooms in southwest Florida

Highlights of the study include:

  • Anthropogenic forcing (human caused environmental effects is a key component of coastal K. brevis bloom dynamics (the organism in red tides that produces a toxin affecting marine life).

  • Caloosahatchee River discharges (which dumps right into the Fort Myers and Sanibel areas) and nitrogen inputs systematically intensify blooms.

  • Anthropogenic influence extends upstream to Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee basin.

  • Nutrient/hydrological management may mitigate bloom intensity and duration.

“This study finally makes the definitive connection between Lake Okeechobee discharges and red tide. The science has been settled for decades on how to alleviate the damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee. By restoring the Everglades and optimizing Lake operations to flow more water south during the dry season, we can significantly reduce the amount of nitrogen discharged to Florida’s Gulf Coast that fuels red tide blooms that devastate our communities and economy,” Capt. Daniel Andrews, Executive Director of Captains for Clean Water, said.
This study is a huge tool for groups like Captains for Clean Water and others for a couple of reasons. Now they have scientific proof that humans and industrial activities are making these harmful algal blooms more devastating–a fact that many knew for years, but now the science supports it as well. Also, it deflates one of the key arguments from the industries fighting to maintain the status quo.
According to a recent CFCW blog summarizing the study’s findings: “Special interests have often leaned into the fact that red tide is “naturally occurring” to distract the public from the worsening effect of the high-volume, nutrient-laden lake discharges…Think of it like a forest fire. Gasoline might not start the fire, but when you pour thousands of gallons of gas on the blaze, it will fuel the flames, spread the fire, and have a direct impact on the amount of damage incurred.”
Hopefully the good folks in Florida can use this study to improve water management to minimize the harmful discharges, pollutants entering Lake Okeechobee, and prioritize Everglades restoration, because the communities of South Florida depend on clean water and healthy marine ecosystems.

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