Red Tide along the Florida Gulf Coast

Wildlife along the Florida Gulf Coast has taken a hit from something called the Red Tide.

I have been holidaying at Longboat Key for 35 years and periodically there is a surge in an algae called Karenia brevis that is in the gulf water for a few days or a couple of weeks then goes away. The alga affects fish by secreting a toxin that attacks their neurological system and gills and it kills a lot of them but the outbreaks are brief and the Gulf fauna recovers quickly.

This year, however, a bloom that started in July has continued unabated ravaging fish and wildlife along the coast from Fort Myers to north of Tampa. Fish have been washing up on the beach in large numbers and the dead sealife has also included sea turtles, dolphins and manatee. I am told that in August the problem was severe and that dead fish littered the beach and the water which turns orange with the bloom. For humans, the problem is mainly respiratory. Apparently swimming in the water contaminated by Red Tide is not a health risk other than causing skin and eye irritation for some.

The Red Tide gets its name from the color it gives to the water when it blooms.

This week we have noticed a lot of dead fish on the beach even the tide goes out, fewer schools of fish in the water, no seagulls or terns and only a couple of egrets. The birds must have moved away because there are no fish in the shallow water to hunt. An occasional pelican flies along the shore but they don’t dive to snare fish like usual. The seabirds have been replaced by flocks of turkey vultures that soar in the wind currents above the beach or pick away at the dead fish littering the shoreline.

Vultures have replaced seagulls along the shore.

There are even fewer tourists than usual and I have read that the tourist industry along the coast has been significantly affected.

Our holiday this week was not changed in any significant way by the persistent Red Tide bloom. On days when the water was stirred up by waves it took on the color of tea rather than its usual clear teal green. You could tell as you walked along the beach the places where the Red Tide was more active (areas of high concentration tend to move along the shoreline) because it would cause a runny nose and a dry tickle in the throat that turned to cough.

Fewer tourists and almost no seabirds along the coast this November.

Why is it worse this year? Apparently there was a lot of rain earlier in the season and the heavier run off into the rivers that flow into the gulf brought with it pollution and eutrophication that acted to fertilize the algae. This, combined with an unusually warm season and warmer gulf water temperatures, added a bonus for abundant algal growth. Yes, effects of climate change and human pollution combined.

It will take a while for the wildlife along the gulf to recover but recover it will. One wonders, however, if – or, more appropriately, how and when – the conditions that disrupt the environment will increase as our weather patterns change in response to climate change.

I will be back to Longboat Key at the end of December and will be anxious to see if things are resolving.

Walking on the beach

There is nothing more exhilarating for me then walking on a deserted beach by the sea. This morning on longboat key it is much cooler than yesterday. Early this morning not many people ventured out onto the beach. But it was gorgeous! A cool north wind, bright sky, crashing waves, vast expanses of sandy beach and no one else there but me and one brave seagull. See for yourself.










imageI didn’t realize that I was singing so loudly as I walked along the beach this morning until the people 50 metres ahead of me turned around to see what the noise was all about. I had my earphones in and was singing ” If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” I had thought that the light wind and the sound of the waves would overwhelm my voice but I guess I was wrong. I hoped that they didn’t think I was referring to them.

It reminded me of an incident that happened to me in 1987 in  Toronto. I know the date because the Skydome was just starting construction. My wife, Barb, and I had taken disco dancing lessons when we lived in Kincardine and with friends, Nick and Jackie Harvey, we had gone to Toronto to check out the discos. We went to a disco at the top of the CN Tower -flashing lights, dry ice smoke and all.

On the way out I was happily singing one of the songs that we had been dancing to. It was Donna Summer’s version of “She works hard for the money”. I was well into the chorus as we walked past a young couple kissing in the corridor on the way to the elevator down. But I guess he had heard me and thought that I was referring to his girlfriend.

When we got to the ground floor and where heading back out to get a taxi I heard someone behind me yelling “Hey f<%*head”. Not thinking he was referring to me – this is not my usual name – I continued along toward the exit. Eventually I turned around. Imagine my surprise to see that this muscular 6 foot 3  20-year-old was yelling at me. He came up to me and grabbed me by the lapels of my new gray ultrasuede jacket and lifted me partway off the ground. Nick seemed ready to take them on but I was worried about getting blood (mine) on my new jacket.

Luckily his girlfriend came to my rescue with “Oh, leave him alone. He’s just a wimp.”  I quickly ascertained that my  choice was between being called “F<%*head” or a wimp. I nodded agreement with the girlfriend and chose wimp.

I have never walk past the CN Tower or heard that song without thinking of this Toronto evening.  The ultrasuede jacket still hangs in my closet waiting to come back into style.