An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: Sarasota County, USF Water Institute

Water-Related News

Sarasota and Charlotte counties teaming up to combat beach erosion

SARASOTA COUNTY — The county has answered a call for help from a neighboring jurisdiction suffering from beach erosion that threatens private property and potentially public infrastructure if nothing is done.

The Sarasota County Commission has agreed to become a co-applicant with Charlotte County on Charlotte applications seeking state money to rebuild disappearing portions of critically eroded shoreline south of Sarasota County along Manasota Key. The move increases the chances Charlotte will receive funds from the state, officials said, adding that Sarasota County would be responsible only for covering costs of renourishing its own beaches on Manasota Key, which suffer from sporadic erosion. The Sarasota County Commission unanimously approved the move at its meeting last week.

“Any time you have multiple jurisdictions or regional type projects, the state likes to see that,” Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines said. “Obviously, this is one natural system, so it would kind of be strange to stop right there at the county line.”

If nothing is done about the area’s disappearing shoreline, the economy could begin to suffer, Hines added.

“A major economic driver here is our beaches and our water, so from that standpoint, we’ve got to protect our beaches,” Hines said.

“Sand war” continues between Siesta Key and Lido Key

SARASOTA – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has recently granted a permit to dredge Big Pass – continuing the four-year battle over sand.

The dredging is part of a Lido Key shoreline re-nourishment project, which aims to replenish 1.6 miles of the Lido Key with sand from Big Pass.

Although the project is backed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the city of Sarasota, the plans have provoked considerable opposition from Siesta Key residents.

"It'll be catastrophic not just for Siesta Key but for our ecosystem, our economics,” Siesta Key businessman Michael Holderness said.

Holderness owns Beach Side Villas and has 200 rentals on Siesta Key. He’s also part of Save our Siesta Sands 2 (SOSS2) group. They’re fighting the DEP’s permit to the City of Sarasota — giving it the green light to dredge Big Pass between Siesta and Lido Key.

The permit authorizes the project team to take 1.3 million cubic yards of sand from Big Pass to place on the central and southern segments of Lido Key — a plan which is expected to cost around $22 million.

Dead sea turtles washing up on area beaches

ENGLEWOOD – The onslaught of red tide on our area is not over yet. Dead sea turtles are now reportedly washing up across southwest Florida.

Cindy Blasa enjoys Englewood Beach for its wildlife and scenic views. But on Thursday night, she saw something she'll likely never forget.

"We came down for sunset and we saw a mound out at the water's edge,” said Blasa.

That "mound" was a dead loggerhead sea turtle that had washed ashore.

"It’s just very sad. We've seen some dead turtles in the past, but never one this big,” she said.

The Coastal Wildlife Club says the loggerhead had no apparent injuries, and it's possible this death could be connected to the recent red tide outbreak.

In the past week and a half, local researchers have seen four dead sea turtles on south Manasota Key, including two critically endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles.

Recent red tide blooms in the gulf have led to devastating fish kills in the area.

Researchers from Mote Marine Lab say these turtles had no injuries then were likely killed from red tide, but samples must be taken for sure.

Red tide is a natural, toxic algae that forms in the gulf.

“It has a toxin called ‘brevetoxin’ which is released and it can cause fish kills and aquatic life kills,” said Dr. Tracy Fanara with Mote Marine Lab.

Red tide can also cause respiratory issues for beachgoers.

Administrative judge to hear Polk and Manasota regional water dispute

Water war heating up as Polk Regional Water Cooperative argues 50-year permit sought by Peace River Manasota Regional Water Authority to double water it can withdraw.

BARTOW — The regional water war continues.

In the coming months, a judge from the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings will listen to the Polk Regional Water Cooperative’s argument that the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Authority should not be allowed to obtain a 50-year permit that would more than double the amount of water it can withdraw.

On June 25, Chris Tumminia, a lawyer for the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud), wrote to the chief judge of the Division of Administrative Hearings.

“The District has concerns regarding whether it conclusively appears from the face of the Petitions that the pleadings contain defects that cannot be cured,” Tumminia wrote. “However in an abundance of caution the District requests that you assign this matter to an Administrative Law Judge to conduct all necessary and formal proceedings.”

Ryan Taylor, executive director of the Polk Regional Water Cooperative, and George Lindsey, who represents Polk on the PRWC, said they hope the two sides can reach a compromise before the hearing. A date for the hearing has not been set.

The PRWC represents the county and 15 cities, including Lakeland.

Mote Scientists tag two whale sharks off southwest Florida Coast

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Thanks to whale shark sightings reported by the public off the southwest Florida coast in early June, scientists from Mote Marine Laboratory located five of the polka-dotted, filter-feeding giants and tagged two of them with tracking devices on the afternoon of June 14.

All five whale sharks were found offshore of Longboat Key and New Pass, feeding at the surface possibly on fish eggs as well as other forms of plankton.

“It is not uncommon for whale sharks to be spotted feeding in the Gulf this time of year, but the duration of their stay is longer than in previous years,” said Dr. Robert Hueter, Senior Scientist and Director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote. “Reported sightings are usually scattered, but the sharks’ locations have stayed pretty stable, as most sightings have been about 30-40 miles off Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key.”

The first shark, a 16-foot-long male nicknamed “Colt,” was tagged around 12:30 p.m., about 40 miles offshore of Sarasota County. As the team was traveling back to shore around 2 p.m., they found and tagged a 22- to 25-foot female nicknamed “Minnie” and photographed her unique spot patterns for later identification. Three more whale sharks were found and photographed in a group closer to shore.

The trip was made possible by Captain Wylie Nagler, owner of Yellowfin Yachts, who transported the research team on his large vessel, allowing them to travel far and fast enough to locate the animals.

The tracking tags will store data about the whale sharks’ location, and the depths and temperatures they encounter.

Will sargassum be the next algae problem in Florida?

The Gulf Coast of Florida is already dealing with two different algae blooms: a red tide on many beaches south of Manatee County and blue-green algae spilling into the Gulf from Lake Okeechobee; but now outbreaks of a larger species of seaweed have even reached Florida. Beginning about seven years ago, beaches throughout the Caribbean Sea have been swamped by feet-thick blooms of Sargassum.

Amy Siuda is an assistant professor of marine science at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg and is trying to figure out if this Sargassum is a different species than is commonly found in the Caribbean.

“Sargassum is a brown algae, a type of seaweed, that is common throughout the tropics and temperate region. There are hundreds of species of Sargassum and most are attached to the bottom like normal seaweeds. But there are two species that are known right now — of Sargassum — that live their entire lives not attached to the bottom. So those two species have been associated with the Sargasso Sea out in the center of the North Atlantic [Ocean].”

And oftentimes critters live right among these floating algae.

Red tide still lingering at Sarasota, Manatee County beaches

SARASOTA — Sarasota and Manatee County beachgoers could feel some respiratory irritation from red tide at Lido Beach, South Lido Park, Siesta Key and Turtle Beach, where the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County reported low red tide cell counts. The effects will be more prevalent farther south at Nokomis Beach, North Jetty, Venice Beach, Service Club Park, Venice Fishing Pier, Brohard (dog) Beach, Caspersen Beach and Blind Pass, where red tide levels are high.

High concentrations of red tide and discolored water have also been reported at Manasota Beach.

There were no observed effects at Longboat Key or Bird Key Park, the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County says.

The algae is not expected to move much over the next three days, according to the University of South Florida-Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Collarboration for Prediction of Red Tide, which forecasts harmful algal blooms in Florida.

Experts began monitoring the current red tide bloom that has killed thousands of fish, sea turtles, a duck and a manatee in Southwest Florida, beginning last October, according to FWC Research Division spokeswoman Michelle Kerr.

Kerr said sea turtles and manatees are infected by ingesting sea grass blades and shellfish. She said the FWC has documented more than 200 reports through the Fish Kill Hotline.

Mote scientists studying possible remedy for red tide

What if organisms in Sarasota Bay could help tame the effects of red tide? That's what researchers at Mote Marine Laboratory are hoping to find out.

This week, Mote is starting a lab study on whether certain organisms have any effect on Karenia brevis, the organism responsible for toxic algal blooms called red tide. When the naturally-occurring organism gathers in dangerous amounts, it can lead to respiratory irritation in humans and often causes fish kills.

The study will use six ladder-like structures that have had time to accumulate filamentous green algae — the stringy, matted plant that typically is the first to attach to underwater structures — and filter feeders like barnacles, tunicates and oysters in Sarasota Bay.

North Port repairs bridge at Warm Mineral Springs Park

The City of North Port is coordinating repairs to a pedestrian bridge at Warm Mineral Springs Park beginning Monday, June 25. It is estimated the work will take four days, pending weather.

Repair includes grinding and resurfacing to address areas that are delaminating and fragmenting.

Although the Springs will still be accessible, patrons will not be able to utilize the bridge during the work. This will impact quick access to the northwestern side of the grounds.

The City of North Port appreciates everyone’s patience and cooperation as the City works on this improvement.

Free admission for Sarasota County residents at Warm Mineral Springs Park on Aug. 11

Have you always wanted to check out Warm Mineral Springs Park? Daily admission will be waived for all Sarasota County residents on Saturday, August 11, 2018. The park is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Spring maintains 85 degrees year-round and contains an estimated 51 minerals – one of the highest mineral content of any natural spring in the United States. People worldwide visit the Park annually to soak in the mineral dense waters. The Spring is also the only warm spring in Florida.

Beneath the Spring’s depths is one of the most important underwater archeological sites in America. It is believed that the Spring dates back to the Ice Age. During exploratory dives in the 1950s, the remains of a prehistoric man and evidence of several creatures were discovered, including saber tooth tigers, giant sloths, tortoises, and even camels. The Spring has been added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Warm Mineral Springs Park is owned by the City of North Port and operated by National & State Park Concessions. Proof of residence will be required for admission into the Springs on Aug. 11, including a driver’s license or an FPL bill, water bill, tax bill, or deed. Spa services are not included in the free admission and must be booked in advance and paid for separately.

For more information about Warm Mineral Springs Park, including general rules and prohibited items, visit or call 941-426-1692.

The fate of Florida's wetlands could be decided behind closed doors, groups say

Environmental and activist groups are criticizing the state for drafting in secrecy the details of a new permitting process to build in Florida’s wetlands.

In a letter Monday addressed to Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein, environmental groups Audubon Florida and 1000 Friends of Florida alongside the League of Women Voters called for a more transparent process in DEP’s workshopping of an application that would give the state almost exclusive discretion in doling out permits to build in wetlands.

Currently, there are two systems in place to authorize building in Florida’s wetlands. Developers can request a permit through the state, or they can go through the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Over the years, the state’s permitting process has been streamlined, whereas the EPA’s system has remained slow. Some have described it as redundant.

HB 7043, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in March, gives DEP permission to draft an application to the EPA to allow the state to authorize federal permits, so long as they don’t breach Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act, which approves on a case-by-case basis development — known as “dredge and fill” activities — in wetlands.

DEP is rapidly drafting the application and taking public comment as is standard during accompanying rule-making workshops. It’s held three workshops around the state already, along with an online webinar. An estimated 300 Floridians have weighed in on rule-making, according to DEP, and the agency recently extended its public comment period by two weeks.

But the signatories of the Monday letter fear that a great bulk of the details of the application are being drafted outside of the sunshine.

Despite permit, Big Pass dredge remains contentious

The state has approved plans to renourish Lido Key with sand from Big Pass, but Siesta Key residents are still considering options for objecting.

Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin has spent years urging Siesta Key residents to drop their opposition to the city’s plans to renourish Lido Key with sand dredged from Big Pass.

For years, those efforts have been unsuccessful. Siesta residents maintain the project could harm their island and create more severe wave action in the waters between the two keys. They’ve consistently cast doubts on any studies designed to provide assurance that the dredging will not be problematic.

And yet, this week, Barwin made the same overtures following the latest sign of progress for the Big Pass dredging — the state’s decision to issue a permit for the project.

Red tide largely spares Manatee County, but plagues beaches to the south

MANATEE COUNTY – The shores of Manatee County have lately been relatively free of the effects of red tide. But as beachgoers venture farther south along the Gulf of Mexico, it's a different story.

On Monday afternoon, beaches from Lido Key to Venice North Jetty reported some dead fish, some respiratory irritation or a little bit of both. This is according to Mote Marine Laboratory's Sarasota Operations Coastal Oceans Observation Lab, or SO COOL for short, which gathers the conditions of 29 beaches from Caladesi Island to Marco Island.

The Karenia brevis organism is naturally occurring but when it accumulates in toxic amounts, it becomes red tide. It's obvious to tell when red tide is on a beach when itchy, watery eyes or scratchy throats become unbearable, or if dead fish litter the shore.

Vince Lovko, phytoplankton ecology scientist with Mote Marine, said this particular bloom is "unusual, not remarkable." By this, he means that although red tide is typically known to appear between late summer and early fall, this particular instance in Manatee and Sarasota waters isn't that strange. The first day of summer is Thursday.

"Certainly we are aware that red tide ... can happen any time of the year," Lovko said.

The trouble is knowing enough about K. brevis to predict when it's going to happen, or to stop it from happening altogether. He compared it to predicting the weather.

"We don't try to change the weather, but we do try to get better at predicting it," he said.

He suspects that the recent harmful algal bloom is actually part of a bloom that has persisted since November 2017.

Missed the Environmental Summit? Now you can watch the video!

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The 2018 Environmental Summit delivered a fast-paced program highlighting connections between our environmental heritage and a resilient future, between natural habitats and fish and wildlife, and between a healthy environment and our quality of life.

The April 26–27 sold-out event featured over 70 speakers participating in panel discussions, invited viewpoint presentations, and rapid-fire lightning talks with live audience polling throughout. Almost 350 registered participants attended, including scientists, educators, resource managers, non-profit leaders, students, business professionals, and community members.