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

Water-Related News

Manatee County, LBK officials to meet, collaborate on improvements

Longboat Key and Manatee County officials are set for a joint meeting Dec. 1 to tackle an agenda that deals with capital improvements, services and collaboration.

The four-point agenda listed the following topics:

  • A discussion on the challenges Longboat Key faces due to being included partly in Manatee County and partly in Sarasota County.
  • An update on the process to replace a wastewater pipeline that extends from Longboat Key underwater across Sarasota Bay to the mainland and a county treatment facility.
  • County transit services on Longboat Key.
  • Renourishment and erosion control plans for Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach.

The meeting will be at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 1, at the county administration building, 1112 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton. People can attend in person or follow by video at mymanatee.org/mga.

Bill in legislature would require FDEP to adopt tech to curb algal blooms

A bill that passed its first committee stop today [Nov. 30] would require the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to procure technology capable of removing harmful algae, toxins, and nutrients from water bodies.

The agency has a technology grant program local government entities can sign up for. According to a legislative staff analysis, the program uses short-term solutions to combat algal blooms and nutrient pollution in an attempt to restore Florida's water bodies. AECOM is an infrastructure consulting firm working with two Florida water management districts that received grants from the program.

"The problem that we're seeing is that we're now turning the corner a little bit, and we have more harmful toxic algal blooms throughout the state, and those of us that have been here for most of our lives we've kind of seen this really pick up in the last decade," Dan Levy says. He works for AECOM.

Even non-toxic algal blooms can be a problem. They block out sunlight, killing the plant life animals depend on, which is the main reason why more than 1,000 manatees have died so far this year. However, Levy believes his firm's algae harvesting technology would meet the legislation's criteria.

North Port 2021 Water Usage Update available

North Port Utilities is pleased to announce that the 2021 Water Usage Report is now available by clicking the link below.

The report contains updates on Utilities services, rates and average community consumption.

Utilities customers are welcome to contact the North Port Utilities Customer Care team with any questions or concerns regarding the 2021 Water Usage Report at 941-429-7122 (Customer Care and Cashiering Office) or 941-240-8000 (Service and Administration Office).

2021 Water Usage Report

Sarasota government leaders consider how to use infrastructure bill funding

County Commissioner Christian Ziegler suggested that some of the money could support the county’s transition to advanced wastewater treatment.
The county is upgrading its Bee Ridge facility, which is the county’s largest wastewater plant. The upgrades will allow the plant to conform with advanced wastewater treatment standards.

Government officials in the Sarasota area are pondering how to use the millions of dollars they expect to receive from the bipartisan infrastructure?package recently passed by Congress.

On Nov. 15, President Joe Biden signed into law a $1.2 trillion bill meant to improve the country’s infrastructure.

Funding from the bill will be used to fix many roads and bridges, expand broadband internet access and build a network of electric vehicle charging stations, among other uses.

Some money will go to Sarasota area local governments, but government officials don’t yet know how much they’ll receive.

Nevertheless, they have several ideas for to how to use the funding, including extending the Legacy Trail into the city of Sarasota’s northern neighborhoods and improving wastewater management.

No Swim advisory issued for Bird Key Park

As a precaution, Sarasota County health officials have issued a “No Swim” advisory for Bird Key Park.

The amount of Enterococcus bacteria found during water quality testing on Monday, Nov. 22nd, was outside acceptable limits. The beach remains open, but wading, swimming and water recreation is not recommended when no swim advisories are in place.No Swim Advisory

Some bacteria are naturally present in the environment. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found a link between health and water quality. Signage advising the public not to swim or engage in water recreation will stay in place until follow-up water testing results meet the EPA’s recreational water quality standards.

The Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County has resampled the beach with results available Friday, Nov. 26.

Enterococcus bacteria can come from a variety of natural and human-made sources. These include pet waste, livestock, birds, land-dwelling and marine wildlife, stormwater runoff, and human sewage from failed septic systems and sewage spills.

No sewage spills have been reported within one mile of the posted beach in the past two weeks.

The rapid response team from Sarasota County has determined the cause of the elevated bacteria levels is likely due to natural sources. The team observed a wrack line of decaying algae along the shoreline. Wrack lines, which provide food for shorebirds and wildlife, act as natural bacteria reservoirs.

DOH-Sarasota Environmental Administrator Tom Higginbotham emphasizes that the Florida Healthy Beaches program protects beach goers when conditions are unsuitable for swimming. This is done by testing beach water weekly and providing up-to-date explanations of the results.

“When these bacteria are found at high levels in recreational waters, there is a risk that some people may become ill. People, especially those who are very young, elderly or who have a weak immune system that swallow water while swimming can get stomach or intestinal illnesses. If water contacts a cut or sore, people can get infections or rashes.” said Higginbotham.

Local health officials emphasize that beaches remain open. However, residents and visitors are urged not to wade, swim, or engage in water recreation at these beaches until the advisory is lifted. In addition, you should not eat shellfish such as crabs and shrimp collected in the immediate area of any beach with a no-swim advisory in place. Finfish caught live and healthy can be eaten if filleted.

To help keep beach water safe for swimming and recreation, do not allow pets to roam on beaches and in park areas and pick up pet waste. Additionally, children in diapers and people of all ages with diarrhea should not go into the water.

For more information:

  • Visit http://ourgulfenvironment.net and click on water monitoring and then bacterial testing to check beach water testing results of area Gulf beaches.
  • Call 941-BEACHES (941-232-2437) or visit www.visitbeaches.org. Click on the same link to the mobile-friendly version of the beach conditions report.
  • The local visitor and convention bureau known as Visit Sarasota County also provides extensive information about the Sarasota area, including its beaches. The website is www.visitsarasota.org.
  • FWC is doing twice weekly updates on red tide for the state at https://myfwc.com/research/redtide/statewide/, including a sampling map that is updated daily.
  • NOAA has a Gulf of Mexico HAB forecast (updated twice weekly while the bloom persists) that can be found at https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/hab/gomx.html.

Forecaster: Sarasota to see faster sea level rise, more very hot days in coming decades

Sarasota residents will have to prepare for more frequent sweltering days in the coming decades.

Currently, about 10 days a year reach 95 degrees or higher in Sarasota, according to Bob Bunting, the CEO of the Sarasota-based Climate Adaptation Center.

Bunting forecasts that in 2050, Sarasota will see 60 such days a year, on average.

“Climate warming is impacting us in our backyards,” he said at his organization’s Florida Climate Forecast Conference at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus on Friday.

Bunting, a former lead forecaster for the National Weather Service, shared his forecasts of what Sarasota’s climate will be like in the next few decades.

A warming climate not only means that Sarasota will see more days with very high temperatures – it also means that the area will experience an accelerating rate of sea level rise and more frequent hurricanes, Bunting said.

What do baby sharks do? New College and a Palmetto conservation group to find out

New College of Florida has received a shark research grant that focuses on population trends for shark species not currently included in long-term monitoring efforts, a news release said.

Specifically, juvenile — or baby — sharks of the blacktip, blacknose, bull and great hammerhead species in lower Tampa Bay.

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program and Restore America’s Estuaries awarded the $165,111 grant to fund Dr. Jayne Gardiner’s shark research. She’s the Pritzker Marine Biology Research Center director and associate biology professor at New College.

“Juvenile sharks are a critical component of a healthy Tampa Bay ecosystem, but they’ve historically been overlooked in many monitoring programs,” Gardiner said, in the news release. “Young sharks of several species have been documented in lower Tampa Bay, and our research will help us better understand the bay’s potential role as a nursery ground.”

Gardiner is using acoustic transmitters to discover the sharks’ nursery areas and study their habitat use, the news release said. According to Tampa Bay Business Journal, that can “measure the impact of climate change and coastal development in areas where the sharks reside.”

UF/IFAS awarded $100K grant to boost shellfish aquaculture industry

The project will include water quality sampling at four shellfish aquaculture farms — two oyster and two clam — along the Gulf Coast

HOMESTEAD — Shellfish like clams and oysters can help restore ocean health and support economic development and food production in coastal communities worldwide.

A scientist at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has partnered with Florida Sea Grant researchers on a $100,000 grant awarded by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Through the grant, scientists plan to quantify the ecosystem benefits of bivalve aquaculture, specifically assessing the use of oysters and clams. Researchers also will explore how to integrate shellfish into water quality policies in the state.

The Conservancy announced the grant recipients this month as part of the new Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration (SOAR) Shellfish Growers Resiliency Fund.

“The grant will help pave the way for shellfish aquaculture in Florida,” said Ashley Smyth, an assistant professor of biogeochemistry and soil and water sciences at UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, Florida. “The amount of nitrogen removed by oyster and clam aquaculture in Florida is unknown. Until those data exist, it is difficult to have a direct path for shellfish growers to contribute to water quality restoration and mitigation policies, or to be compensated for the ecosystem services that their products provide.”

Red tide among DeSantis' environmental budget priorities

Gov. Ron DeSantis will ask legislators to consider $960 million in funds for the 2022-23 fiscal year to support resiliency efforts across the state.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday [Nov. 16] announced his environmental budget priorities for the 2022-23 fiscal year, including $660 million to go toward Everglades restoration and other funds to address the impacts of sea level rise. Speaking in Naples, DeSantis said he will request legislators to approve $960 million toward resiliency efforts.

“We are excited to announce this historic support for Florida’s environment, Everglades restoration, and our water resources," DeSantis said in a news release. "We have seen great results so far, but we are not yet at the finish line.

"It’s nice to see so many coming together to support these initiatives. We will be pushing hard to continue the momentum this legislative session.”

DeSantis said some of the funds will address algal blooms and help local governments — including those across the greater Tampa Bay region — with red tide cleanup, along with helping communities become more resilient against intensified storms and flooding.

The budget breakdown, according to the release:

  • $660 million for Everglades restoration including the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), the EAA Reservoir Project, and the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project.
  • $175 million for targeted water quality improvements
  • $40 million for the Alternative Water Supply Grant Program
  • $50 million for projects to restore Florida’s springs
  • $35 million for increased water quality monitoring and to combat harmful algal blooms including blue-green algae and red tide
  • $3 million to remove invasive Burmese pythons
  • $550 million to increase the resiliency for coastal and inland communities
  • $500 million for the Resilient Florida Grant Program for projects to make communities more resilient to sea level rise, intensified storms and flooding
  • More than $50 million to close the gap in resiliency planning and to protect coral reefs.

“In Florida, our environment is the foundation of everything from our economy to our way of life,” said Mark Rains, state chief science officer.

DeSantis is expected to releas

What Florida can expect from the infrastructure spending bill

Billions of dollars are on their way to Florida as part of the new infrastructure spending bill. Water projects may be the priority, according to a new report card.

Billions of dollars for roads, bridges and internet broadband will be coming to Florida over the next five years. President Joe Biden will sign the infrastructure bill into law Monday.

The trillion-dollar-plus spending plan earmarks money for a list of projects — transportation, public transit, electric vehicle recharging stations, and clean water projects among them.

There was some bipartisan support for the bill, but not among the Florida congressional delegation. Democrats in this state voted for it. Republicans against it.

Gov. Ron DeSantis described the legislation this way Monday: “I think it was a lot of pork-barrel spending from what I can tell.”

One of the Democrats hoping to win DeSantis’s job in next year’s election — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried — called the new money a beginning.

“This is a great starting place. Is it ever going to be enough? No, but certainly this is historic in what we can do moving forward,” she said.

Are scientists contaminating their own samples with microfibers?

More than 70% of microplastics found in samples from oceans and rivers could come from the scientists collecting them.

A new paper by Staffordshire University and Rozalia Project, published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, investigates procedural contamination when sampling for microparticles in aquatic environments. The study shows that a significant amount of microplastics and microfibres from scientists' clothing and gear mixes with environmental pollution in the water samples.

Claire Gwinnett, Professor in Forensic and Environmental Science at Staffordshire University, explained: "In the field this can occur due to the dynamic nature of the environment such as wind or weather, actions required to obtain samples and the close-proximity necessary for scientists to procure and secure samples whether in a medium-sized vessel, small boat or sampling from shore. In a mobile lab, this often occurs due to using small, multi-use spaces and similar requirements for scientists to be in close proximity to the samples while processing."

New College of Florida wins grant to study Tampa Bay shark population

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program and Restore America’s Estuaries have awarded a $165,111 grant to New College of Florida to fund shark research.

The research, which will be conducted by New College associate professor Jayne Gardiner, will assess population trends for Tampa Bay shark species, addressing data gaps that currently hinder conservation and management efforts.

“Juvenile sharks are a critical component of a healthy Tampa Bay ecosystem, but they’ve historically been overlooked in many monitoring programs," Gardiner said. "Young sharks of several species have been documented in lower Tampa Bay and our research will help us better understand the Bay’s potential role as a nursery ground.”

With a focus on blacktip, blacknose, bull and great hammerhead sharks in lower Tampa Bay, Gardiner will use long-term acoustic transmitters to discover the sharks’ nursery areas and study their habitat use.

The findings will help measure the impact of climate change and coastal development on the areas of the bay inhabited by these sharks.

Longboat Key turtle season affected by beach renourishment, storms

In the age-old question of nature versus nurture, turtle patrollers along Longboat Key beaches tried to strike a delicate balance this year.

Nature took its toll on nests as storms and red tide rolled close to a shoreline that itself was changing throughout the summer as the town's renourishment work progressed. And humans, as they often do, didn't always follow the rules.

So, volunteers and scientists worked to make nesting turtles' paths as easy as possible. And the turtles came.  

“The nourishment project, obviously, was huge, but for how big it was, things went well,” said Melissa Bernhard, a Mote Marine senior biologist in sea turtle conservation and research. “We didn't have any major issues, or anything crazy memorable. It was just like, ‘Oh, we moved nests, we put them here. We did that again the next day.’ As far as nesting numbers go, it's on par with other recent years, which are all the highest years that we've had. Overall, not just for Longboat, but for all five of the islands we look at, it was the fourth-highest nesting that we've had in our 40 years.”

Mote Marine Lab shark researcher Eugenie Clark to be honored with postage stamp

stamp image

From the blog of the Historical Society of Sarasota County:

Our Forever Heroine

Coming up in 2022, there will be this wonderful “Forever stamp” to stock up on. If it weren’t for Dr. Eugenie Clark, what would our oceans and the Gulf of Mexico be like? Known as “The Shark Lady”… she transformed a dream into a multi-faceted research center, Mote Marine. Clark was a pioneer in the field of scuba diving for research purposes.

Can you say “ichthyologist”? That is what Eugenie Clark was!

Links to learn more about Dr. Clark’s life work as summed up by the best scientific sites:

Our thanks to Sarasota’s Tak Konstantinou for letting us know of this honor to his family and to our local hero!

Manatee and Sarasota County teachers receive SWFWMD Splash! Grants

Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) awarded $104,941.81 in grants to 48 educators within the District as part of the Splash! school grant program. The program provides up to $3,000 per school to enhance student knowledge of freshwater resources in grades K-12.

Splash! grants encourage hands-on student learning through STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities as well as engagement of the greater school community through awareness campaigns. Each school district allocates a portion of their annual youth education funding provided by the District to support the Splash! grants in their county.

The District awarded grants to the following schools/teachers in Manatee and Sarasota Counties:

  • Braden River High School - Sharon Itts (Manatee)
  • Laurel Nokomis School - Karen Senarens (Sarasota)
  • Manatee High School - Boontarika Elswick (Manatee)
  • Palmetto High School - Brianne Hill and Natalie Richard (Manatee)
  • R. Dan Nolan Middle School - Michelle Boculac (Manatee)
  • Sarasota School of Arts and Sciences - Christine Fleming (Sarasota)

Grants are available for freshwater resources field studies, water-conserving garden projects, community or school awareness campaigns and on-site workshops. For more information, please visit the District’s website at WaterMatters.org/SchoolGrants.

Florida congressional lawmakers hold meeting on state’s water quality woes

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from Florida met in Washington D.C. to discuss the state's pressing water quality issues. Some of the topics discussed revolved around the record number of manatee deaths the state is seeing amid worsening algae blooms.

Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan and Democrat Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz originally announced the 29-member state Delegation meeting — the first meeting since Feb. 2020.

Dr. Michael P. Crosby, president and CEO of the Sarasota-based Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, was invited to speak in front of the delegation. He stressed the need for a new seagrass restoration project. Acres of seagrass beds have been dying off over the years in different parts of the state.

Seagrass acts as the main food source for manatees which have been dying at a record rate this year. The general consensus among marine biologists is many of the mammals are dying of starvation due to increased water pollution fueling algal blooms that kill off seagrass.

The FWC says there have been 988 manatee deaths from Jan. 1 to Oct. 29, 2021, meeting the criteria to be declared an Unusual Mortality Event — one that has been confirmed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

There were 830 manatee deaths in 2013 alone, the previous all-time high that happened following a red tide outbreak, according to The Associated Press.

Another recent water quality crisis that was addressed was the former Piney Point phosphate mining facility. Earlier this year, more than 200 million gallons of wastewater was dumped from a leaking reservoir at the facility and into Tampa Bay.

Wesley R. Brooks, director of federal affairs for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, told lawmakers the department's commitment to closing the facility.

Last month, FDEP finalized an agreement with a new court-appointed receiver to oversee the closure of the facility.

Red tide persists along Florida’s Gulf coast; here’s how you can help stop it

Red tide shows up in southwest and west central Florida waterways and news headlines more often than we care to see it. Even the scientific name for its main causative agent, the phytoplankton (microalgae) Karenia Brevis, carries household name notoriety in the Tampa Bay Area due to its roaming prevalence of late in the Gulf of Mexico.

Like inconsiderate houseguests, some red tides tend to linger. The harmful algae bloom (HAB) that first appeared last December currently persists in low to moderate patches along Florida's west coast, with high concentrations present near Pinellas and Sarasota as recently as late October.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)'s Red Tide Current Status displays current tracking data. You can also call 866-300-9399 at any time from anywhere in Florida to hear a recording about red tide conditions. The recording is updated on Fridays at 5 p.m.

The good news? Scientists and environmental advocates now believe that by incorporating simple, eco-friendly practices at home, Florida residents can work alongside larger regional efforts to improve water quality -- and in doing so, encourage healthier waterways where HAB houseguests like K. Brevis won't feel welcome for such extended, high-concentration stays.