A record red tide is occurring right now off the southwest coast of Florida, and the effects on marine life are horrifying.
A “red tide” is a sudden bloom of microscopic marine organisms, particularly certain phytoplankton and dinoflagellates that contain red or brown pigments. When such species reach sudden abundance, the water can appear any color from a pinkish-tan, to deep blood red. These species are often found near shore, and in places where fresh water flows off the land to make the level of salt slightly lower than in most sea water. Unfortunately, that water can also carry phosphorus and nitrates from fertilizers and other sources into the sea, spurring an explosive cycle of growth.
Growth … and death. Because many red tides not only deplete the oxygen levels in surrounding water, they lead to the production of a whole series of toxins that kill fish and other marine life. Hot weather makes these blooms even stronger, which is why these events are not uncommon in the summer months. But what’s happening off Florida is exceptional. There are actually multiple blooms of toxic organisms happening at the same time.
Now that the sun has come up we can really see the extent of death on Siesta Key beach. Florida’s southwest waterways are being rocked by red tide and a separate toxic algae bloom, which is believed to be linked to discharge from Lake Okeechobee pic.twitter.com/b2U8gDn81H
— Kellie Cowan (@KellieCowan) August 2, 2018
Indications are that a major source of nutrients for these toxic events is animal waste from large commercial farms in the area. When the Trump EPA shot down the “Waters of the United States” regulation, it dropped much of the regulation of this waste. Earlier this year, then administrator Scott Pruitt cut back on rules requiring monitoring and treatment of agricultural waste water.
The combination of record heat and record waste results in record red tide—and an unprecedented level of death on Florida beaches. Rather than going on for just a few summer weeks, this red tide has been going for nine months … and it’s getting worse.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a “state of emergency” because of red tide more than three weeks ago, but the situation continues to get worse. As the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports, the issue is potentially shifting Florida politics, where even GOP voters in some of the wealthiest areas are seeing “green slime” and dead marine life covering their seashore. In some areas, shorelines are limned with dead fish, and glowing green masses of algae are moving sluggishly in red waves. It’s not exactly the version of Florida that the state uses to attract tourist dollars. The clearly visible issue is generating some talk of action, even on the right.
Investing in cleanup measures has become a popular campaign promise among candidates in both parties, and there is increasing talk of cracking down on polluters, something many GOP leaders in Florida have been reluctant to over the years.
“Investing in cleanup” is just another way of saying “we’re not going to do anything to regulate the industries causing this problem.”