Water-Related News

Red Tide respiratory forecast is expanding with federal grants

The Red Tide Respiratory Forecast has received $653,960 to “get more microscopes in more hands on more beaches.” The funds will also help to expand detection of other toxic algae species.

Thanks to federal grants, a forecast that helps predict where red tide will produce respiratory issues will reach more Gulf Coast beaches.

State wildlife officials reported Wednesday that a red tide bloom is still causing problems in Southwest Florida.

High concentrations are being found in Lee and Collier counties. Fish kills and respiratory irritations related to the bloom have been reported offshore of Lee and Collier, as well.

Red tide can cause coughing, runny nose and eye irritation.

To see if their beaches are safe, residents and beachgoers can check an online respiratory forecast from the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Red Tide Respiratory Forecast helps people along the coast know where and when to expect those symptoms.

It was initially established and tested in Pinellas County in 2018. Today, it includes more than 20 Gulf Coast beaches.

Rick Stumpf, an oceanographer who led the development of the forecast, said it’s been demanding and exhausting work to take water samples every day and transport them back to a laboratory to then study them under a microscope.

But a press release said they’ve built a system called HABscope, a portable microscope system that uses video and artificial intelligence to quickly analyze water samples for near real-time cell counts of Karenia brevis, the organism that causes red tide in the Gulf of Mexico.

A microscope, with an iPod touch attached to it, can be taken directly to the beach and be monitored by a volunteer citizen scientist right then and there.

The program recently received federal grants from NOAA NCCOS MERHAB and IOOS to expand its coverage and make improvements over the next three years.

"One part of this program is to get that effort up and running and running smoothly so we have a reliable set of volunteers who can return the data. The other is we're expanding it to Texas. They also get these red tides, they're not just in Florida," said Stumpf.

The goal is to be able to monitor every beach every day, he said.

"Part of the offer too is to make it the system stable enough that GCOOS can continue running it into the future. This is a transition of getting all the research pieces put together in a way that it's actually sustainable, so it could run long term,” said Stumpf.

He said they hope to better detail where the blooms are, where high concentrations are, and the wind patterns for the coming 36 hours.

Although, the red tide organism Karenia brevis is not the only harmful algae the group plans to monitor with this grant money, said Barbara Kirkpatrick, Executive Director of GCOOS and an environmental health scientist who conducted the first studies about red tide bloom impacts on human health.

Pyrodinium bahamense is another toxic dinoflagellate that occurs in Florida’s estuaries,” said Kirkpatrick in a press release.

“It produces saxitoxin — one of the deadliest natural toxins in the world — and it can be a public health risk in recreational fisheries. It can also cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), which causes closures of shellfish harvesting. If we can use HABscope to test for other toxins, we can increase the benefits to the public across even more sectors.”

Environmental groups ask judge to throw out EPA decision to let Florida oversee wetlands permitting

Seven environmental groups asked a judge Thursday to throw out the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to give the state control of wetlands permitting.

The environmental groups say Florida's application was riddled with errors and the EPA violated the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedures Act when it handed Florida control of wetlands permitting last month.

“There are such unreasonable things in the way EPA has acted in this case that I'd be surprised if any other EPA looking at it would have reached the same conclusion,” said Tania Galloni, managing attorney for Earthjustice’s Florida Office.

Wetlands clean and recharge the state’s water supply and Florida has lost more wetlands than any other state in the country — more than 9 million acres, according to federal estimates. Florida asked the EPA to take over issuing permits for about 11 million remaining acres of wetlands in August and became just the third state in the U.S. to administer the cumbersome process. Michigan took control of its wetlands permitting in 1984 and New Jersey assumed control in 1994.

Florida began seriously considering assuming control in 2005, when state legislators voted to move forward with the plan. But the attempt stalled later that year when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection concluded it would be better off expanding its own program and taking over the federal permitting would bog down the process.

One-third of America’s rivers have changed color since 1984

America’s rivers are changing color — and people are behind many of the shifts, a new study said.

One-third of the tens of thousands of mile-long (two kilometer-long) river segments in the United States have noticeably shifted color in satellite images since 1984. That includes 11,629 miles (18,715 kilometers) that became greener, or went toward the violet end of the color spectrum, according to a study in this week’s journal Geographical Research Letters. Some river segments became more red.

Only about 5% of U.S. river mileage is considered blue — a color often equated with pristine waters by the general public. About two-thirds of American rivers are yellow, which signals they have lots of soil in them.

But 28% of the rivers are green, which often indicates they are choked with algae. And researchers found 2% of U.S. rivers over the years shifted from dominantly yellow to distinctly green.

“If things are becoming more green, that’s a problem,” said study lead author John Gardner, a University of Pittsburgh geology and environmental sciences professor. Although some green tint to rivers can be normal, Gardener said, it often means large algae blooms that cause oxygen loss and can produce toxins.

The chief causes of color changes are farm fertilizer run-off, dams, efforts to fight soil erosion and man-made climate change, which increases water temperature and rain-related run-off, the study authors said.

“We change our rivers a lot. A lot of that has to do with human activity,” said study co-author Tamlin Pavelsky, a professor of global hydrology at the University of North Carolina.

Project applications sought for Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund

TBERF logo

Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund Request for 2021 Proposals

TBERF-2021 seeks applications for cost-effective projects that will protect, restore or enhance the natural resources of Tampa Bay and its contributing watershed.

This includes projects that address on-the-ground habitat restoration; water quality improvement; applied research and monitoring; and community-based social marketing campaigns.

Preference will be given to proposals that apply open science principles and are aligned with conservation objectives and priorities described in the RFP.

More information and application materials are available at the link below.

Why are so many Florida manatees dying?

A preliminary state tally for 2020 found 619 manatees were killed, up from last year and the second highest number in the last five years.

Add manatee deaths to the list of bad things that happened in 2020.

Despite the COVID-19 shutdown that may have briefly given the lumbering sea cows a break from heavy boat traffic, deaths climbed to 619 last year, according to a preliminary tally from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. That’s the second highest number in five years, behind 2018 when a lethal red tide blanketed the Gulf Coast and killed more than 200.

“As soon as [people] realized that you could socially distance on the water, it swung the other way,” said Patrick Rose, an aquatic biologist and executive director of the Save the Manatee Club. “It went from a bit of a respite to almost literally an overkill.”

Because of the shutdown, necropsies were not performed on about a third of the dead manatees, Rose said. That left biologists to guess the cause of death. But he said they estimate boat strikes killed just over 100, in keeping with the number of boating deaths in recent years.

Rose said that suggests that other worrisome trends — poor water quality and loss of habitat — could be playing a role in increasing numbers.

“Boating is still a critically important factor for manatees, but sadly — and one that as an aquatic biologist and someone working in the field for about 50 years I really didn't think we were going to see — is the levels of concern for the habitat itself,” he said. “With all the red tide, brown tides, blue green algal blooms and just the problems that Florida is facing in terms of water quality and quantity, it's starting to have a very significant impact on loss of seagrass and and food resources for manatees.”

Manatees were removed from the endangered speci

Study shows positive effect of restoration

A recent study of Southwest Florida Water Management District restoration projects showed restoring coastal wetlands has a positive impact on populations of juvenile sportfish.

The Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund paid for a study that focused on how restoring coastal wetlands improved habitat for juvenile sportfish and compared the use of natural, impacted and restored sites along Tampa Bay shorelines. Sites defined as impacted had modifications such as dredged canal or ditch but no further changes. But restored sites had landscape changes that helped support aquatic communities.

The study found that the restored and natural sites displayed a greater number of sportfish than the impacted sites, suggesting changes to habitat can affect the number of juvenile sportfish.

“It’s exciting and validating to have this information; it shows that our coastal restoration techniques are providing valuable sportfish habitat,” said Jaime Swindasz, staff environmental scientist.

Assessing the growth of juvenile sportfish can provide helpful insight into habitat suitability and the cost-benefit of future restoration projects.

The study evaluated the Rock Ponds Ecosystem Restoration, Terra Ceia Restoration and Cockroach Bay Restoration.

“Overall density of sportfish at the restoration sites were comparable to or higher than natural sites that have been shown to serve as sportfish nurseries in Tampa Bay,” the study said.

For example, the Rock Ponds Restoration site contained high densities of snook, fast growth rates and overall good conditions. This suggests that coastal wetland restoration using a habitat mosaic approach helps to improve nursery function for juvenile sportfish, which adds ecological and economic benefits to these projects.

Fried asks new EPA head to reconsider wetlands move

State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has asked incoming Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan to reconsider a recent EPA decision that shifted federal permitting authority to Florida for projects that affect wetlands.

Fried released a letter Wednesday that she sent to Regan, who has been tapped by President-elect Joe Biden to lead the EPA. Supporters this month praised the Trump administration’s decision to shift the permitting authority to Florida, saying it would help reduce duplicative state and federal permitting and give Florida more control over such decisions.

Florida is only the third state, joining Michigan and New Jersey, that have received the authority, according to the EPA. But some environmentalists have long opposed the move, arguing it would reduce protections for wetlands.

Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council awards stormwater education grants

The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) have selected the recipients of the FY2021 Stormwater Outreach and Education funding. This funding from FDOT aims to further public involvement, education, and outreach efforts to improve the quality of stormwater runoff in the Tampa Bay region. Projects develop and implement creative public outreach programs and a variety of educational materials, such as door hangers, drain murals, and hands-on activities for children.

This year, funds were distributed across 13 projects, totaling $90,000. Awardees included Carlton Manor, Hampton Terrace, Keep Pasco Beautiful, MOSI, Pasco County, the city of St. Petersburg, and others. Many projects were tailored to this year’s target audiences: 1) construction and development industry; 2) Homeowner Associations; 3) lawn care and landscaping companies; 4) tourism and hospitality. Notable projects include hospitality educational programs through both Keep Pinellas Beautiful and Keep Pasco Beautiful, community rain garden signage from the Gulfport Sustainability Committee, stormwater educational signage for seven public parks in the city of Largo, and outreach materials for a fertilizer ordinance public awareness campaign in Pasco County.

See the full list of FY2021 funding recipients.

Visit the Stormwater Outreach & Education Funding page to learn more: http://www.tbrpc.org/stormwaterfunding/

Tampa Bay Water to fund programs to protect drinking water sources

Six organizations receive $58,900 in grants and sponsorships

CLEARWATER – Tampa Bay Water will distribute $58,900 in grant and sponsorship funds to help Tampa Bay area non-profits and schools protect the region’s sources of drinking water. The utility is partnering with the Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation, Glazer Children’s Museum, Keep Pinellas Beautiful, Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, Pasco County Schools and Pinellas County Schools on projects that educate families and students through exhibits, lesson plans and environmental education programs.

“We’re partnering with organizations that share our commitment to protect and conserve our water resources,” said Michelle Stom, chief communications officer for Tampa Bay Water. “These programs not only help protect our drinking water and environment; they are also a great public service to families throughout Tampa Bay.”

Tampa Bay Water will fund four organizations through its Source Water Protection Mini-grant program and two organizations through sponsorships. The receiving organizations are the Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation, Keep Pinellas Beautiful, Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, Pinellas County Schools, Pasco County School District, and the Glazer Children's Museum.

To see details of the funded projects, visit the link below.

EPA gives Florida wider authority over wetland development

TALLAHASSEE — The federal government granted Florida’s request for wider authority over wetland development, a move announced Thursday that came under immediate fire by environmentalist who worry that the country’s largest network of wetlands could be at risk of being further degraded.

The announcement by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler was long sought by developers and Republican allies, who argued that the layers of regulatory scrutiny were cumbersome, expensive and unnecessary. Supporters touted the move as a step that would streamline the permitting process when property owners seek to develop wetlands.

During a news conference in Washington, Wheeler said the state had met the high bar necessary to assume the role of handling the permitting process.

“This action allows Florida to effectively evaluate and issue permits under the Clean Water Act to support the health of Florida’s waters, residents and economy,” he said.

“By taking over this permit program, Florida will be able to integrate its dredging and fill permitting with their traditional water quality and monitoring programs,” he said.

At around statehood in 1845, the state had about 20 million acres (8 million hectares) of wetlands. By 1996, Florida had lost nearly half of that because of dredging, draining and filling. The state’s population growth has spawned a boom in development, which has prompted much of that destruction.

Florida accounts for about a fifth of the country’s wetlands and includes the Everglades, among the state’s most important environmental jewels. A massive restoration project costing billions of dollars is currently underway to repair the damage to the Everglades, including the draining of huge swaths of its marshes.

Wetlands serve a key role in the ecosystem, including in helping maintain water quality