A science-based panel discussion aims to cut through the misinformation swirling around the red tide and blue-green algae blooms that have plagued Southwest Florida.
A persistent red tide bloom in the Gulf of Mexico killed tons of fish last summer, and is also blamed for the deaths of dozens of manatees and dolphins. The yearlong Karenia brevis bloom has released noxious airborne toxins and discolored Gulf water, fouling some area beaches along the Southwest Florida coast.
Read more: Complete coverage of red tide in Southwest Florida Abbey Tyrna, the University of Florida’s Sarasota County water resources extension agent, invited five panelists to discuss the issue Thursday night at Ringling College of Art & Design’s Academic Center Auditorium.
“People tend to get really emotional and then start making decisions based on misinformation,” Tyrna said about the myths spreading about algal blooms in Florida. “They get so tied to one course of action that they strongly believe in even though it might be built off a belief of misconceptions. If they’re so rooted in that cause, then it’s hard to make compromises or shift toward a more efficient or more comprehensive plan of attack.”
In Lee County, canals and the Caloosahatchee River have been affected by thick blue-green algae after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released Lake Okeechobee water to lower the lake level during the rainy season.
• Lisa Krimsky, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension water resources regional specialized agent. Krimsky has studied Lake Okeechobee extensively and her efforts focus on water quality in coastal and estuary ecosystems.
• H. Dail Laughinghouse, assistant professor of applied phycology at the University of Florida, has studied algal blooms from the tropics to polar regions. The Laughinghouse Lab is conducting research on cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and treatment methods, using novel approaches of chemistry, genetics diversity and the environment.
• Vincent Lovko, staff scientist and program manager at Mote Marine Laboratory. He has done research on harmful algal blooms in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Lovko is the program manager of the Phytoplankton Ecology Program at Mote.
• Russ Hoffman, manager of Beautiful Ponds, a lake, wetland and preserve management business. His company aims to promote environmentally friendly management of suburban lakes and ponds, as well as educate clients about the latest research and technology for environmental stewardship.
• John Ryan, Sarasota County’s stormwater environmental manager, has worked for the county for 29 years as a water expert and is a founding member of Sarasota Bay Watch. His department is responsible for monitoring water quality and handling pollution regulatory matters.
The panel discussion is offered as part of Tyrna’s 2018 UF/IFAS Florida Waters Stewardship Program, in which about 20 local residents are enrolled to learn about how to protect the environment. This is the third class to go through the water stewardship program, which is one of two offered in Florida’s 67 counties.
Tyrna said she hopes Thursday night’s free panel discussion will provide science-based information on the blooms and offer attendees concrete actions they can take to protect Florida’s waters.
Recently, red tide forced the cancellation of the annual Paddlefest in Englewood as west winds returned. For current updates and beach status reports, go to myfwc.com/redtidestatus.
Tyrna is also writing a series of blog posts to help educate the public about algal blooms and what residents can do to help curb nitrogen pollution in Sarasota County’s thousands of stormwater detention ponds: bit.ly/2zEYs6q.
She urged interested residents to attend the forum.
“They should come if they’re interested in knowing more about harmful algal blooms or just knowing what they are and how complex they are,” Tyrna said. “It’s important if they want to do something about it, they have to understand the full complexity of the issue.”
Vicki Dean is enrolled in the 2018 Florida Waters Stewardship Program in Sarasota County. She is a freelance writer based in Venice.