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July, 2018:

Dead fish…

We’re having a bout of red tide here in Englewood. It’s not as bad as it was a few days ago, thankfully. But a week or so ago it was pretty horrid, and lots of fish (and the occasional dolphin, turtle, and manatee) died. That’s pretty tragic.

Red tide is a semi-regular occurrence here on Florida’s Gulf Coast. It’s effects from the life cycle of a microscopic organism that lives in the waters here. It poisons fish and puts something into the air that can affect people’s respiratory systems. For me personally, it gets into my throat and I start to cough. If I’m in it for a while, it gets into my sinuses, which obligingly clog up. It’s not a fun thing, and when it’s happening I need to stay away from the water. Which of course is no fun at all.

While it is a naturally-occurring organism, there are environmental factors which can supercharge it. Primary among those are discharges of nutrient-laden water. We’ve got a few sources of those, but the worst two I’ve noticed are when a sewage system overflows (as happened a couple of years ago up around Tampa after a really bad set of storms) or when we have mandated discharges from Lake Okeechobee out the Caloosahatchee river during our rainy season. (And out the St. Lucie River on the Atlantic side, but I don’t have to deal with it over there.)

And thereby hangs a tale.

Some decades back, the Army Corps of Engineers rejiggered the flow of water that used to just filter nicely south from Lake O into the Everglades. They dammed a lot of it up and sent it out the rivers to the east and west. This of course messed up the entire ecosystem of the Glades, and folks have been trying halfhearted remedies to keep things alive since then. This involves attempting to strike devils’ bargains with folks like the big sugar growers south of Lake O and a whole lot of money, none of which seems to be making the South Florida ecosystem any healthier. Not sure what links would be best to bring folks up to date on this, so I’ll leave it to y’all to google your own info.

Meanwhile, the tourism industry – which relies in no small part on beaches that people want to spend time on – has been suffering as a result of this, from Naples to Venice. I can think of at least two waterfront restaurants here in Englewood that closed for at least one and possibly more days because, red tide. All through no fault of their own.

Are there solutions? Possibly. But they’re not comfortable solutions for folks who make a living off the status quo. Cutting the use of fertilizers on farmland, or making sure that there are swales and catchments to keep fertilizer excess from getting into the waterways is one possible remedy. But that’s hard to do, because Florida has these vigorous downpours now and then, especially in the summertime, and once you get up over half an inch or so of rain in an hour, it’s hard to build a drainage/retention system that won’t overflow. At least without spending beaucoup bucks.

Restoring more of the natural laminar flow through the Everglades might help, but that would likely involve a lot of work to add more drainage/throughflow under I-75 and US-41 (Alligator Alley) across the Glades in south Florida. Which wouldn’t be cheap, in a state that doesn’t seem to spend a whole lot of money on updating infrastructure and that isn’t likely to increase taxes anytime soon. It would also make it harder for what we call “Big Sugar” to continue extracting their profits out of their lands south of Lake O.

And it would involve viewing our land and our Everglades as living organisms that require proper care to stay healthy. Which would go against large chunks of our current cultural paradigm, sad to say.

Meanwhile, fish and other critters are dying, and businesses are losing money. And it stinks.

Literally.