Water-Related News

EPA: Florida must change water quality standards to protect citizens’ health

TALLAHASSEE — The United States Environmental Protection Agency has determined that Florida’s antiquated water quality standards do not go far enough in protecting its citizens — particularly those who consume fish — from pollutants and adverse health effects.

Florida’s current criteria for 40 toxic pollutants runs afoul of the Clean Water Act, does not reflect the latest science and must be changed to safeguard a state that has a vibrant seafood industry, the agency said in a letter released Thursday by the federal agency.

A big issue: Florida’s projection that its residents eat 6.5 grams of fish per day. That number came from standards adopted three decades ago, and the agency said it “does not keep pace with the current practices of Florida residents.”

Florida ranks 11th among American states for fresh seafood production with 87 million pounds harvested and a dockside value of $237 million, according to a 2016 report by the Florida Department of Agriculture.

Some red tide detected near mouth of Tampa Bay

Red tide continues to plague Southwest Florida and now, the algae bloom is drifting closer to Tampa Bay.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Red tide has been a problem in Sarasota and Manatee counties for several weeks and now, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties might have to deal with the harmful algae, as well.

"The worst case would be there's more stuff offshore and it further transports to mouth region or further transport into the bay. That would be the worst case," said Dr. Yonggang Liu, the director of the Ocean Circulation Lab at the University of South Florida.

Low levels of the bloom have been detected in two spots at the mouth of Tampa Bay, but experts say right now, it shouldn’t be cause for alarm.

"I don't expect it's going to be a dramatic change in the next three days," Liu said.

However, it is a situation that researchers and marine wildlife experts are keeping a close eye on.

"At this particular moment, we're actually just monitoring, keeping an eye on it," said Dr. Shelly Marquardt, a veterinarian at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

The red tide levels in two parts of the Tampa Bay area are low now, and not a major threat to people or animals — but if it continues to move deeper into Tampa Bay, it could pose a real problem. At this point, researchers say they don’t expect to see a drastic red tide event in Tampa Bay.

Scientists from the U.S., Mexico, and Cuba met to start combating acidification in the Gulf of Mexic

Acidification is “not terribly bad right now” in the Gulf, but due to climate change, the water will likely become more acidic in the future. This threatens the estimated $2.04 trillion annual marine economy.

A team of international scientists from along the Gulf of Mexico in the U.S., Mexico, and Cuba recently met to start addressing the socioeconomic impacts of ocean acidification — that’s when carbon dioxide from the atmosphere changes the pH balance of a water body.

Jorge Brenner, the executive director of the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System, said that the more acidic water becomes, the more difficult it is for some marine organisms to produce hardened structures.

"In the case of [an] oyster, well, that's the shell. In the case of a shrimp, that's the exoskeleton. The case of a coral is the whole organism that depends on the structure that they create. So, as water becomes more acidic, those structures might be more brittle and not able to be as hard as they typically are in more neutral waters," Brenner said.

He said acidification is “not terribly bad right now” in the Gulf, but due to climate change, the water will likely become more acidic in the future. Brenner added that the water moves and is continuous, so it’s not going to be the same everywhere along the Gulf.

“Different shallow areas, or deeper areas, or areas where there is more current and water masses move more might have a better way to cope with acidification,” Brenner said.

The U.S., Mexico, and Cuba will each be impacted differently during each season, he said.

“As the was the warm waters come into the Gulf of Mexico — early in the summer, for example — Mexico might be affected sooner than the United States, but eventually that will potentially revert as we get into the fall and the winter … It's a highly dynamic medium that allows for all of our coastal regions to be impacted,” Brenner said.

Ocean acidification poses a threat to the Gulf’s marine economy, which is estimated to have a combined value of $2.04 trillion per year across the U.S., Mexico, and Cuba.

Tampa Council pushes off decision on what to do with wastewater

It’s pumped into Tampa Bay now. The state will outlaw the practice in the next decade.

Tampa won’t get an exemption to a state law that will prohibit the city from dumping 50 million gallons a day of highly treated reclaimed water into Tampa Bay in the future.

That fact was bemoaned by environmentalists Thursday, who had urged City Council members to lobby in support of changing the law.

They have opposed Mayor Jane Castor’s proposal to treat that wastewater further and pump it into the Hillsborough River, as well as a prior proposal dating to 2018 to inject it into the aquifer. On Thursday, her staff said the proposal no longer exists, leaving the matter in limbo after years of debate.

The city faces a 2032 state deadline to stop pumping reclaimed water into the bay. But a majority of City Council members have opposed any proposal to mix it — no matter how highly treated — with city drinking water sources, the solution advocated by Castor and predecessor Bob Buckhorn.

Red tide has been found at Fort De Soto and Anna Maria Island

Red tide has been slowing drifting north in the Gulf of Mexico since Hurricane Ian made landfall in Southwest Florida.

Red tide is being found at Fort De Soto Park in Pinellas County. Low concentrations are also across the mouth of Tampa Bay at Anna Maria Island.

And high concentrations of the marine organism are still around Sarasota Bay and areas south of Nokomis and Venice Beach.

The latest report from state health officials said fish kills believed to be caused by red tide were reported in Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties. Respiratory irritation was reported over the past week in those counties.

People with respiratory problems are being advised to avoid many beaches in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

FWC commissioners vote to deny captive breeding of diamondback terrapins

FWC staff brought in law enforcement and an expert on global turtle trafficking to make the case against captive breeding of diamondback terrapins, while the majority of public commenters were for it.

Florida wildlife officials voted Wednesday to deny a proposal for captive breeding of diamondback terrapins, which are threatened by poaching for the domestic and overseas pet trade.

Advocates argued that commercial breeding would alleviate the pressure put on those illegally captured in the wild.

In addition to trafficking, their populations are also on the decline as more than 50% of their original habitat has been lost. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission expects that to continue to grow under climate change and increasing sea levels. Plus, they have been drowning in blue crab traps, although new rules for preventing that will go into effect March 2023.

Captive breeding of the species has been prohibited since 2006, and a ban on possessing them went into effect this year, with the exception of permits for pets before March or for scientific research to strengthen their conservation.

FWC staff successfully recommended Wednesday for regulations to remain the same.

Melissa Tucker, with the FWC’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation, told commissioners during her presentation that captive breeding would actually cause more harm than good to diamondback terrapins.

Florida wildlife officials approve protections for endangered manatees

They include feeding lettuce for the second straight year, as poor water quality and algae blooms have depleted seagrass beds that provide a key food source for manatees in the Indian River Lagoon.

State wildlife officials Wednesday approved a seasonal no-entry zone in an area of Brevard County waters where manatees gather, while preparing for a second winter of feeding the sea cows to try to prevent deaths.

The approval came after the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission confirmed this month that it will again work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to feed lettuce to manatees. The agencies also took the unusual step last winter, as manatees starved because of a lack of seagrass, a key food source.

“We are poised and ready to manage our manatee situation in the Indian River Lagoon, much as we have, but with improvements based on what we have learned,” Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director Eric Sutton said Wednesday during a meeting at the Bluegreen’s Bayside Resort and Spa in Panama City Beach.

Poor water quality and algae blooms have depleted seagrass beds that provide a key food source for manatees in the Indian River Lagoon.

“Water quality improvements and habitat restorations are ongoing,” Sutton said. “So, we are hoping that this will be a bridge to help us.”

Effects of ocean acidification on stone crabs subject of TBEP-funded research paper

The way Philip Gravinese, Ph.D., sees it, research is important not just for what can be discovered but for how that information can be shared.

In keeping with that philosophy, Gravinese, an Eckerd College assistant professor of marine science, recently co-authored a paper titled “Do pH-Variable Habitats Provide Refuge for Stone Crabs from Coastal Acidification?” It was published Nov. 15 in the journal Oceanography.

“The paper is a lesson developed for educators that is based on some of the ongoing research I’ve been doing near Fort De Soto Park,” Gravinese explains. “In this work we are looking at stone crab reproductive success between sandy habitats (narrow pH range) and seagrass habitats (wider pH range) to see if the pH range between those habitats provides the stone crab with any reproductive advantage under future climate change reductions in seawater pH.”

The project is being funded by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

FWC now accepting applications for newly created Vessel Turn-In Program

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is now accepting applications for a recently approved and newly created Vessel Turn-In Program, a key component of Florida’s derelict vessel prevention program.

VTIP is a voluntary program designed to help owners dispose of their unwanted at-risk vessels before they become derelict. Upon approval of an application, VTIP will take a surrendered vessel and dispose of it at no cost to the boat owner. Removing the vessel before it deteriorates into a derelict condition will prevent legal ramifications for the vessel owner and will protect Florida’s valuable seagrass resources, marine life, and human life, safety, and property.

A derelict vessel upon waters of the state is a criminal offense and can carry serious penalties and fines or possible jail time.

“Acting now is the best way to prevent legal action from occurring if the vessel becomes derelict,” said Phil Horning, VTIP Administrator.

To qualify for VTIP, a vessel must be floating upon waters of the state of Florida and cannot be determined derelict by law enforcement. The owner must have at least one written at-risk warning or citation and possess a clear title to the vessel.

To apply for or view program guidelines, visit MyFWC.com/VTIP or call the FWC Boating and Waterways Division at 850-488-5600 for more information.

Expedition retraces a legendary explorer’s travels through the once-pristine Everglades

Changes in water quality will be an important facet of the expedition

In 1897, the explorer and amateur scientist Hugh de Laussat Willoughby climbed into a canoe and embarked on a coast-to-coast expedition of the Florida Everglades, a wilderness then nearly as vast as the peninsula itself and as unknown, he wrote, as the “heart of Africa.”

Willoughby and his guide were the first non-Native Americans to traverse the Everglades from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, and Willoughby’s meticulous notes, charts and water samples would form the basis of scientists’ historical understanding of the legendary “river of grass.”

Now a new expedition has retraced his trek, with the goal of measuring the impact of modern humanity on a watershed that today is among the most altered on Earth and responsible for the drinking water of some 12 million Floridians.

The expedition also commemorates the 75th anniversary of Everglades National Park, which was dedicated on Dec. 6, 1947.

“We think we will see the full spectrum, from one of the most remote parts of the continental United States to one of the most urbanized parts of the United States – all in one watershed, all in one trip,” said Harvey Oyer, co-leader of the four-member expedition and the author of a series of children’s books about the historical Florida frontier. “That, I think more than anything else, will illustrate humanity’s impact from the time of Willoughby to today.”

Willoughby’s thorough work provides a tantalizing opportunity to compare conditions in the Everglades then and now. Traveling the region’s rivers and canals over six days and some 130 miles, Oyer and the team drew water samples from the same spots as Willoughby, according to coordinates he documented, sometimes from some of the most remote and hard-to-reach parts of the subtropical region.

The water samples are being analyzed at the University of Florida for the same constituents that Willoughby examined, such as magnesium and sulfates, along with nutrients now known to affect the Everglades like phosphorus and nitrogen.

The samples are also being tested for modern pollutants like microplastics, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), pesticides and pharmaceuticals. It will be a few months before the analysis is complete. The team wrapped u

How floating wetlands are helping to clean up urban waters

As cities around the world look to rid their waterways of remaining pollution, researchers are installing artificial islands brimming with grasses and sedges. The islands’ surfaces attract wildlife, while the underwater plant roots absorb contaminants and support aquatic life.

Floating wetlands were first tested in retention ponds, the kind often located near developments to hold stormwater, to see if they filtered pollution. “The front end of it was, ‘Will they work? How well do they work? And what plants should we recommend?’” says Sarah White, an environmental toxicologist and horticulturalist at Clemson University who has worked on floating wetlands since 2006. Partnering with researchers at Virginia Tech, White found that the wetland plants she tested not only did well in ponds with lots of nutrient pollution, but the adaptable, resilient plants actually thrived. She did not always choose native plants, opting instead for those that would make the islands more attractive, so that more urban planners would use them.

Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council releases comprehensive climate change plan

The main objectives of the plan are 11 goals that include everything from strengthening local infrastructure to increasing sustainability.

The region's first comprehensive plan to prepare for the effects of climate change has been released. Now, it's up to local governments to take action.

It's called the Regional Resiliency Action Plan. Included in it are 72 pages of recommendations on how the community can adapt to extreme heat, rising seas and other effects of climate change that are expected.

The main objectives are 11 goals that include everything from strengthening local infrastructure to increasing sustainability.

Sean Sullivan is the executive director of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. It released the plan along with 32 members representing local governments in counties from Citrus south to Sarasota.

He said the group has agreed to use accepted science as a baseline for their recommendations.

"We've tried to do with this plan is to show, in fact, that if we agree on, say, a baseline scientific approach, it just makes simple sense despite which side of the aisle you're on," he said. "And then when we brought that approach to our elected officials — and on the Regional Planning Council, there are 27 elected officials and 11 appointed officials — and then three extra officials, they essentially have agreed that the using science makes sense."

"We know our climate is warming. We had the warmest summer on record in the Tampa Bay region this past summer. We had more days over 90 (degrees) than any other summer on record," he said.

FWC Harmful Algal Bloom Grant Program funds three projects

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’s Harmful Algal Bloom Grant Program has awarded funding to three projects to address research related to Karenia brevis. The HAB Grant Program supports projects that address recommendations of the HAB Task Force.

Title: Composite Red Tide Vulnerability Index (CRTVI): Assessing and communicating vulnerability of coastal communities to Red Tide in Florida

Principal Investigator: Christa D. Court, University of Florida

Co-Principal Investigators: Lisa Krimsky, Angie Lindsey, Andrew Ropicki and Ricky Telg, University of Florida; David Yoskowitz, Harte Research Institute

Summary: This project leverages recent research results quantifying the socioeconomic, health and environmental impacts of red tide events to develop a Composite Red Tide Vulnerability Index that can quantify the vulnerability of coastal communities in Florida to the impacts of red tide events. The CRTVI can increase general awareness and be used as an objective criterion to help decision-makers both identify areas that are more vulnerable to impacts stemming from red tide events and design systems to better prepare for, respond to and mitigate red tide event impacts.

Award: $295,304, January 2023-June 2024

View Abstract »

Title: Developing a Physical-Biological Model of Karenia brevis Red Tide for the West Florida Shelf

Principal Investigator: Yonggang Liu, University of South Florida

Summary: This project partners the University of South Florida Ocean Circulation Lab with FWRI HAB Researchers to develop a physical-biological model of Karenia brevis red tide for the West Florida Shelf, with a long-term goal of being able to simulate and forecast red tide.

Award: $299,349, January 2023-June 2024

View Abstract »

Title: A land-based shellfish depuration mitigation strategy to increase business opportunities and reduce economic losses associated with extended lease closures following red tide exposure

Principal Investigator: Dana Wetzel, Mote Marine Laboratory

Co-Principal Investigators: Tracy Sherwood, Mote Marine Laboratory

Summary: This project aims to develop feasible land-based depuration protocols that allow shellfish farmers in red tide-impacted regions to have the chance to regain their crops and thereby sustain shellfish production.

Award: $246,326, January 2023-June 2024

View Abstract »

Petition urges USFWS to protect Florida manatees as endangered

Calling declines in Florida's manatee population “dramatic” a coalition of groups have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to increase protections for the aquatic mammal.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic, Miami Waterkeeper, Save the Manatee Club and Frank S. González García filed the petition Monday. The petition urges the federal wildlife agency to reclassify the species from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

"Since the service prematurely reduced protections in 2017, the species has declined dramatically," a release from the groups about the petition said.

According to information provided by the groups, pollution-fueled algae blooms sparked an ongoing mortality event that killed more than 1,110 Florida manatees in 2021 alone -- 19 percent of the Atlantic population and 13 percent of all manatees in Florida.

The deaths continued this year, the groups said, with 726 manatees dying through October. Manatee experts predict that the high levels of malnourished and starving manatees will continue throughout the winter.

“West Indian manatees from Florida to the Caribbean are facing drastic threats from habitat loss, boat strikes, pollution, climate change and toxic algae blooms," said Ben Rankin, a student attorney at the Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic. “The restoration of full Endangered Species Act protections is an essential first step in conserving this species everywhere it is found.”

Red tide is drifting north and is now at the mouth of Tampa Bay

High concentrations of the organism that causes red tide has been found in Southwest Florida since Hurricane Ian made landfall. Now, it's slowly moving north.

Red tide is drifting north along the Gulf coast from Southwest Florida and is now being found at the mouth of Tampa Bay.

Red tide, which has been found off the coast of Manatee and Sarasota counties, is inching north. Water samples taken this week by state environmental officials show very low concentrations of the organism that causes red tide was detected along the Sunshine Skyway and the northern tip of Anna Maria Island, where Tampa Bay meets the Gulf of Mexico.

Medium to high concentrations were found along every beach in southern Manatee and Sarasota counties. State officials had issued a health advisory warning last week for all beaches in Sarasota, warning people about respiratory irritation and dead fish.

This week, that warning was extended to beaches in Manatee County, including Bayfront Park, Coquina Beach South, Longboat Pass/Coquina Boat Ramp and the Rod and Reel Pier on Anna Maria Island.

High concentrations have been found south of Sarasota since Hurricane Ian struck in September.

People with respiratory problems should stay away from the water. Residents living along the beach should close their windows and run air conditioning.

Hillsborough purchases land along the Little Manatee River for preservation

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Commissioners voted to buy a 487-acre ranch, creating a continuous corridor of preserved land along the Little Manatee River.

Hillsborough County commissioners this week voted to buy a tract of land that will create a continuous corridor of preserved land along the Little Manatee River.

The purchase is the latest in a series of land acquisitions along the largely undeveloped river.

Commissioners unanimously agreed to purchase the 487-acre ranch. It borders the Little Manatee River.

The money — about $11 million — will come through ELAPP, the county's Environmental Land Acquisition and Protection Program.

Commissioner Stacy White has been part of a team working on buying the ranch, and says it will connect to large preserved areas just to the south in Manatee County.

"With all of the open land and preserved land in northern Manatee County, we can really connect some wildlife corridors that begin to have a true regional impact," White said.

It will be adjacent to a 79-acre sod farm purchased by the county in September as part of an expanded preserve along the river.

Commissioner Mariella Smith nominated the former cattle ranch for purchase through the ELAPP program before she joined the board.

"This parcel connects other preserves, making a huge wildlife corridor from the upper Little Manatee River south, past the county line, to some other preserves in Manatee County," Smith said.

Smith said this is a critical step in getting the federal government to declare the Little Manatee a "Wild and Scenic River," which would give added protection to the area.

Photos show contaminated water plaguing southwest Florida

TAMPA – Aerial photos revealed massive plumes of red tide stretching along much of southwest Florida’s coast days after Tropical Storm Nicole passed over the state.

Photos released by Calusa Waterkeeper showed a deep reddish-brown discoloration of the water near Naples and Sanibel due to the presence of red tide “and other phytoplankton species,” the non-profit organization said in a Facebook post.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, beaches from Sarasota to Port Charlotte vary between low, medium, and high levels of red tide.

The harmful algal blooms are commonly known to cause mild and short-lived respiratory symptoms in humans such as eye, nose, and throat irritation like those associated with the common cold or seasonal sinus allergies, the Florida Department of Health said.

Blooms are also known to last for months, depending on wind conditions.

New website dedicated to tracking Piney Point’s progress now available

The site contains various documents and updates that will offer full transparency on the progress as part of the closure plan.

MANATEE COUNTY – A new website dedicated to tracking the progress at Piney Point is now available.

The site contains various documents and updates which will offer full transparency on the progress as part of the closure plan.

While Hurricane Ian did add a lot of damage to the area, officials say the plan is still on track.

"You'll find all of my status report all the progress reports also a lot of photographs of what we've done out here, a lot of photographs to show that the wildlife is coming back to Piney Point," Herbert Donica, a court-appointed receiver, said.

In March of this year, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection approved the conceptual closure plan prepared by the site's court-appointed receiver — a huge milestone in the state's journey to close its chapter on the wastewater emergency and its lasting effects.

In March 2021, a tear in one of the former Piney Point facility's reservoirs caused concern over a potential collapse. In order to prevent a crisis, crews discharged more than 200 million gallons of untreated wastewater into Tampa Bay.

The first phase of the closure plan involves stockpiling dirt to close the gypsum stacks. Right now they’re reshaping one of the stacks, so it drains to the west into the stormwater management program. Once that's complete, topsoil and vegetation will be added. It’s a process that needs to be completed in a timely manner.

Red tide conditions return to Southwest Florida

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Current Conditions – Nov. 9th, 2022

The red tide organism, Karenia brevis, was detected in Southwest Florida. Over the past week, K. brevis was observed in 50 samples. Bloom concentrations (>100,000 cells/liter) were present in 15 samples: seven in Sarasota County and eight in and offshore of Charlotte County. Additional details are provided below.
  • In Southwest Florida over the past week, K. brevis was observed at background to low concentrations offshore of Hillsborough County, background concentrations in Manatee County, background to high concentrations in and offshore of Sarasota County, very low to high concentrations in and offshore of Charlotte County, very low and low concentrations in Lee County, and low concentrations offshore of Collier County.
  • Reports of fish kills suspected to be related to red tide were received over the past week in Southwest Florida in Sarasota, Charlotte, and Lee counties. For more details, please visit: https://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/health/fish-kills-hotline/.
  • Respiratory irritation suspected to be related to red tide was reported over the past week in Southwest Florida in Sarasota, Charlotte, and Lee counties. Additional details are provided in the Southwest Coast report. For recent and current information at individual beaches, please visit https://visitbeaches.org/ and for forecasts that use FWC and partner data, please visit https://habforecast.gcoos.org/.
Forecasts by the USF-FWC Collaboration for Prediction of Red Tides for Pinellas County to northern Monroe County predict net western movement of surface waters and net southeastern transport of subsurface waters in most areas over the next 3.5 days.

Due to the upcoming holiday, the next complete status report will be issued on Thursday, November 10th. Please check our daily sampling map, which can be accessed via the online status report on our Red Tide Current Status page. For more information on algal blooms and water quality, please visit Protecting Florida Together.

This information, including maps and reports with additional details, is also available on the FWRI Red Tide website. The website also provides links to additional information related to the topic of Florida red tide including satellite imagery, experimental red tide forecasts, shellfish harvesting areas, the FWC Fish Kill Hotline, the Florida Poison Information Center (to report human health effects related to exposure to red tide), and other wildlife related hotlines.

To learn more about various organisms that have been known to cause algal blooms in Florida waters, see the FWRI Red Tide Flickr page. Archived status maps can also be found on Flickr.

The FWRI HAB group in conjunction with Mote Marine Laboratory now have a Facebook page. Please like our page and learn interesting facts concerning red tide and other harmful algal blooms in Florida.