Florida Red Tide Takes Record Number of Turtles

A dead sea turtle on a SW Florida beach following the red tide event Photo: Ivy Yin, SWNS

The red tide that tormented the coast of Florida was extremely deadly for marine wildlife.  The Miami Herald Tribune reported that the Florida Department of Fish and Game attributed the deaths of 589 sea turtles and 213 manatee deaths to this episode of red tide, which began in late 2017. And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported it had killed 127 bottlenose dolphins as of Dec. 20 (when the government shutdown began), leading the agency to declare an unusual mortality event.  And that is not counting the tons of dead fish that washed ashore.

Volunteers who help to preserve turtle nests kept up their work even during the red tide’s worst days. From May to October, they wore masks and scarves first to check turtle nests and then later in the summer to clear a path through dead fish on the shore for the hatchlings to make it out to the sea.  And according to local scientists, the red tide toxins persist for some time in the seagrass, so the impacts are not over yet. 

Not to mention the costs of cleanup in Southwest Florida alone, so far:

  • Manatee County has picked up 316 tons of dead fish from waterways,
  • Cleanup has cost Manatee County $210,00, the bulk which was to clear residential canals during the peak of the bloom, and
  • Sarasota County removed 251 tons of red-tide-related fish and marine debris from County managed properties at a cost of more than $230,000.

Ecowatch reported that the new Governor of Florida has announced an executive order to study red tide, the creation of a Blue-Green Algae Task Force to study the other harmful bloom in Lake Okeechobee, and $2.5B to restore the Everglades and protect other water resources in the state.

Why This Matters:  The harmful algal blooms in Florida demand serious and concerted action.  The loss of endangered sea turtles and manatees is a crushing blow to the environment, and also to the tourism economy in Florida.  Will a Task Force and further study be sufficient?  Doubtful.  What is needed is action to curb agricultural pollution, which is one of the main culprits in harming our oceans and our fresh water.  

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