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

Water-Related News

No red tide is reported along Pinellas beaches and Sarasota Bay for first time in months

Red tide is finally receding along Gulf of Mexico beaches for the first time since Hurricane Ian came ashore in late September.

Red tide continues to recede from the Gulf of Mexico beaches.

State environmental officials are saying that only one report of a "medium" amount of red tide was found in the area, along the south Sunshine Skyway fishing pier. No red tide was found at any beaches in Pinellas County for the first time in several months.

Low amounts of it were reported along Manatee County's shoreline on Tampa Bay, as well as the northern tip of Anna Maria Island.

No red tide was reported in Sarasota Bay, which has been plagued by the toxin since shortly after Hurricane Ian came ashore. Low amounts were still found, however, near Venice Beach, Nokomis Beach, and several locations south of Venice.

Still, reports of fish kills and respiratory irritation suspected to be related to red tide came in from Sarasota County over the past week. For more details, visit: https://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/health/fish-kills-hotline/ and https://visitbeaches.org/.

Respiratory irritation suspected to be related to red tide was reported in these locations in Sarasota County: Caspersen Beach, Lido Key Beach, Longboat Key, Manasota Key Beach, Nokomis Beach, Siesta Key Beach, Venice Beach and Venice North Jetty Beach.

The next meeting of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force will be on Feb 1st

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The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is hosting a meeting of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023.

Members of the public are invited to participate in-person or online.

  • WHAT: Blue-Green Algae Task Force Meeting
  • WHEN: Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • WHERE: Florida International University's Biscayne Bay Campus
    Wolfe University Center, Room 155
    3000 N.E. 151st St.
    North Miami Beach, FL 33181

If joining virtually, please register for the GoTo Webinar or view the livestream on The Florida Channel.

The registration link and meeting agenda are available at ProtectingFloridaTogether.gov.

Public comment will be accepted during the meeting and can also be submitted via email to BlueGreenAlgaeTaskForce@FloridaDEP.gov

USF engineering-led team awarded $2.5M federal grant for coastal harmful algal bloom research

USF engineers awarded $2.5 million federal grant to expand harmful algal bloom research along Florida coasts

Engineers from the USF College of Engineering are leading a team of scientists across the state in the development of a new, state-of-the-art system that allows water districts to better predict and manage harmful algal blooms.

The $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers allows USF to work with researchers from the University of Florida and the South Florida Water Management District to address harmful algae blooms in Lake Okeechobee, St. Lucie River and Caloosahatchee River watersheds.

“Harmful algae blooms cause many negative environmental, health and economic effects throughout the state,” said principal investigator Mauricio Arias, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering. “This three-year grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers supports the development of new state-of-the-art water quality data and models to better predict and manage harmful algae blooms in this vitally important and environmentally sensitive ecosystem.”

Harmful algae blooms occur when rapid growth of algae leads to an accumulation of individual cells that discolor water and often develop floating mats that produce unpleasant odors and may negatively impact fish, birds and other wildlife.

The research team will take a multidisciplinary approach to fill any knowledge gaps by utilizing tools that model water resources and water quality, physical oceanography and will engage with end-users.

“The goals of this project are to generate actionable knowledge and develop a tool that will allow managers to better predict and manage harmful algae blooms in Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee River watersheds,” said Wendy Graham, director of the University of Florida Water Institute.

Beaches battered by hurricanes will get help in Sarasota and Manatee counties

Beaches that were eroded by waves and wind from Hurricanes Ian and Nicole last year will get help, with funding just announced.

The state on Wednesday allocated $100 million to help rebuild beaches devastated by last year's hurricanes. It includes restoration projects in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

The money will be used for beach renourishment projects in 16 counties that were impacted by Hurricanes Ian and Nicole. The money includes $305,000 for Manatee County and $618,000 for Sarasota County.

The money is in addition to $20 million awarded in November to help several local governments immediately address erosion problems. Beaches are considered the first defense against storms, preventing waves from reaching inland dunes and beachside developments. A wide beach system absorbs wave energy, protects upland areas from flooding, and prevents erosion.

"Beaches are vital not only to the environment and the state’s economy, but are most importantly our first line of defense against storms,” said Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton. “I am thankful for the support and leadership of Governor DeSantis and the Florida Legislature to accelerate restoration and further protect these impacted communities from future storm events.”

Longboat Key still waiting on New Pass groin permits

The project to keep sand from slipping through the rocky structure is the final portion of town's latest beach renourishment.

The New Pass groin tightening project, originally supposed to begin this month, will likely have to wait until after the 2023 sea turtle nesting season has wrapped up next fall, town officials said.

The town expected to receive permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in late 2022 to begin the work this winter, but even as the new year began, the paperwork still had not arrived, said Longboat Key Public Works Department Programs Director Charlie Mopps.

While the window on beginning the work this turtle off-season remains open if permits arrived promptly, town officials are making plans to wave off until late 2023 should permitting not arrive.

Registration open for Florida Waters Stewardship Program; Classes begin March 8th

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To make a difference in water quality for our community, we must understand how we interact with water. As Floridians, we are integrally connected to our streams and bays by our faucets and laundries, our neighborhood ponds and lakes, and our yards and streets. We are also connected to our regional and statewide neighbors by our surface and groundwater supplies.

In this program, participants will learn from professional experts, experience watershed science in the field, and practice communication skills to foster a greater understanding of our interactions with water and become stewards of our water resources.

During this seven-session course, stewards will travel to locations across Sarasota and Manatee counties to learn about emerging water issues, meet with local experts, and explore the natural beauty found in these areas.

Dinner will be served at each session.

Sessions include:

  • Mar. 8 (4:00 - 7:00 pm): Welcome and Overview at The NEST at Robinson Preserve.
  • Mar. 15 (4:00 - 7:00 pm): Watershed Basics and Stewardship at UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County - TBD.
  • Mar. 22 (4:00 - 7:00 pm): Changing Waterscapes + Working With Thorny Issues at Island Branch Library and Perico Preserve.
  • Mar. 29 (4:00 - 7:00 pm): Water Laws and Other Tools + The Power of Partnership at Turtle Beach.
  • Apr. 5 (4:00 - 7:00 pm): Future Water Supply & Emerging Issues + Communication at Carlton Water Treatment Facility.
  • Apr. 12 (4:00 - 7:00 pm): Stakeholder Panel Discussion + Stewardship Project Updates at Mote Marine Classroom.
  • Apr. 19 (4:00 - 7:00 pm): Speaking of Water + Elevator Stewardship / Graduation / Expected Outcomes at UF/IFAS Extension Manatee County - Kendrick Auditorium.

Cost: $125 per person plus service fee (Total $134.24). Registration is online via Eventbrite.

If the cost of this program will prevent you from participating, please complete a scholarship application. There are two full scholarships available for this program. Application deadline is at 11 pm on February 22, 2023.

This course has limited seating/availability. Please register early to reserve your spot. For more information about this course, please contact the Water Resources Agent, Michael D'Imperio, at mdimperio@ufl.edu or 941-861-9818.

Sarasota County PRNR protects 25 acres along Myakka River

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Sarasota County protects 25 acres of environmentally sensitive land on the Wild and Scenic Myakka River

On Dec. 21, 2022, Sarasota County acquired 25 acres along the Wild and Scenic Myakka River, near S. River Road and S. Tamiami Trail, and adjacent the Myakka State Forest. The county purchased this land through the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program (ESLPP), which was designed to acquire and protect environmental land.

“This strategic purchase helps protect the riverine habitat along the property’s shoreline as well as the natural resources in our region, especially those within the Wild and Scenic Myakka River watershed,” said Nicole Rissler, director of Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources. “The property connects to other greenspaces and serves as a significant wildlife corridor, and now will be protected and preserved in perpetuity.”

The 25 acres consists of tidal salt marsh, tidal strand, mangrove swamp, mesic and hydric flatwoods, and hydric hammock habitats. Some wildlife species that call the property home include West Indian manatee, river otter, gopher tortoise, American alligator, and several wading bird species such as the green heron, little blue heron and reddish egret. Plant species present are giant air plant, cardinal air plant, shoestring and resurrection ferns, elephant's foot, Savanna blazing star, black needle rush, and red, black and white mangrove. This property is also located within one mile of the State Designated Critical Wildlife Area 17-12, established to protect nesting birds such as Anhinga, heron species and wood stork.

About the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program

The ESLPP is a voter-approved and taxpayer-funded program that began in 1999. Since its inception, the ESLPP has protected and preserved more than 40,250 acres of natural habitat, with more than 21,000 of those acres placed under a conservation easement. Conservation easements remove the land’s development rights and require the landowner, current and future, to protect the land for greenways, water quality, habitat, and wildlife protection in perpetuity.

The Environmentally Sensitive Lands Oversight Committee (ESLOC) advises the Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners on land nominations, acquisition, management, prioritization, and use of environmentally sensitive lands throughout the county.

Learn more about the ESLPP by visiting scgov.net or call 3-1-1.

No debate anymore: Climate change makes extreme weather worse, federal scientists say

Scientists at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) delivered a clear message: Climate change is — unequivocally — making extreme weather events worse.

South Florida has always been hot, rainy and vulnerable to hurricanes. So it’s understandable that some longtime residents remain skeptical that climate change is doing anything to make the region’s age-old problems any worse.

But scientists at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) delivered a clear message Monday at the American Meteorological Society’s annual meeting in Denver, Colorado: Climate change is — unequivocally — making extreme weather events worse.

In fact, scientists can now go a step further and show that specific weather disasters were more likely or more damaging because we live in a hotter climate. At the meeting, scientists presented case studies of heat waves, droughts, and extreme rainfall events that were influenced by climate change over the past two years in the U.S., South Korea, China and other countries. A collection of these studies was also published Monday in a special report from the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

Florida’s emergency chief seeks changes in disaster response

Florida’s emergency-management director wants lawmakers to make changes to help with disaster preparation and response, pointing to issues that have arisen as the state recovers from Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole.

Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie this week asked lawmakers to reduce the amount of time people have to remove damaged boats from waterways and to provide uniform requirements for local governments about debris-removal contracts. He also wants to tweak a new relief fund and shield from public records the names of people harmed by disasters.

“What we’re talking about is media outlets. We’re talking about lawyers, attorneys, those that are seeking to try to start making money off of disaster survivors and victims,” Guthrie told members of the Senate Select Committee on Resiliency as he described the proposed public records exemption.

Researchers look at ways to control Red Tide

While most research on red tide is focused on what causes it and how to track its path, new funding sources are making it possible for investigators to take a deeper look at actually controlling red tide.

A team with researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, Mote Marine Laboratory, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the University of Central Florida, and the University of South Florida has the funding they need to field test a potential new treatment that has been very successful in China.

Finding a way to control red tide is important for Tampa Bay – and Florida’s west coast – because events can cause massive environmental and economic losses. Just in 2021, more than 3.9 million pounds of dead sealife were collected during a red tide event by Pinellas, Sarasota, Manatee and Hillsborough counties.

The technology being studied now is called clay flocculation. Clay particles are applied to waters infested with Karenia brevis, the algae which causes red tide. The cells become enmeshed in the clay and fall to the sea floor. Initial results from a small field test in July 2021 showed that it killed about 75% of the red tide cells in two hours. Despite the high kill rate, the levels of the K. brevis toxins decreased only slightly.

Key Florida lawmaker focuses on shifting from septic tanks to sewer systems

The chair of the Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee said a “big focus” will be getting homes and businesses off septic systems.

A Republican senator who oversees environmental spending said this week he wants to continue efforts to shift properties from septic tanks to sewer systems to try to help protect waterways.

Sen. Jason Brodeur, a Sanford Republican who chairs the Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, said a “big focus” will be getting homes and businesses off septic systems.

“As we look at the nutrients that are continuing to leach into our waterways, particularly inland, we want to make sure that we're doing all we can to support those municipalities, to make sure that those (nutrients) are not continuing to move into our water bodies and jeopardizing either our wildlife or our recreational opportunities,” Brodeur said during a subcommittee meeting Thursday.

This year’s state budget includes $557 million for water quality improvements, with $125 million aimed at helping with such things as septic conversions and upgrades.

Deadline for applications for Sarasota Bay Partners grants is March 1st

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2023 Sarasota Bay Partners Grants Priority Issue: Climate Change & Resilience

Warming temperatures, rising sea levels, and altered weather patterns will continue to impact our natural and built environments. Local action can help prepare our communities and estuary for these changing conditions. There are many opportunities to engage in this dynamic, as shown in the project idea list below. Click here to learn more about climate change in Sarasota Bay. Please note that this list is suggestive, not exhaustive, of projects that meet the 2023 priority issue. You are encouraged to apply even if your scope is not listed or is outside of our priority issue.

Project Ideas: Habitat Restoration and Water Quality

  • Planting shade trees in highly paved urban areas
  • Installing rain gardens and bioswales to filter runoff from impervious surfaces
  • Diverting gutter downspouts from impervious surfaces to planter boxes, garden beds, or other permeable areas, or to rainwater harvesting systems like rain barrels and cisterns
  • Implementing living shorelines or seawall modifications that will allow mangroves to “migrate upslope”

Project Ideas: Bay-Related Environmental Education and Community Stewardship.

  • Environmental education programs that incorporate principles of best practices in environmental education, such as those developed by the North American Association for Environmental Education
  • Producing educational programs, videos, or signage centered around climate change
  • Community science monitoring and restoration programs
  • School or college environmental club service or outreach projects
  • Neighborhood engagement campaigns to encourage Bay-friendly behaviors
For more information and grant application, please visit the link below.

Florida is fighting to feed starving manatees this winter

As the state’s residents step up to save the sea cows, advocacy organizations believe the solution is less about lettuce—and more about leaders.

FEW VIGNETTES SHOW how much human activity has affected wildlife more than the scene at Florida Power & Light’s plant in Cape Canaveral. Hundreds of manatees bask in an intake canal on its southeast edge, drawn by the warm waters. These manatees are hungry. Pollution has decimated their usual menu of seagrasses in the Indian River Lagoon. Many have starved: 1,101 died in Florida in 2021, and as of December, 2022’s official estimate was nearly 800 deaths. So along the canal, members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are tossing them lettuce.

“It's just emblematic of how dire the situation is,” says Rachel Silverstein, the executive director of environmental nonprofit Miami Waterkeeper. “The point where we would need to artificially feed a wild animal because their ecosystem is so destroyed that they cannot find food for themselves is pretty extreme.”

The supplemental feeding program began in early 2022 and restarted this winter, because of the persistence of what marine mammal experts call an “unusual mortality event.” “It probably kept the manatees alive,” says Silverstein of the feeding program, “but it's not a sustainable condition for manatees in the long term to need to rely on an artificial food source.”

[N.B.: Manatee starvation is a problem in southeast Florida, but not on the Gulf Coast, the area covered by Water Atlas websites.]

SWFWMD schedules prescribed fires in southern Sarasota County

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Setting prescribed fires in controlled settings can reduce the risk of wildfires burning out of control. That’s why the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) will be conducting prescribed burns January through March at Myakka River - Deer Prairie Creek Preserve and Myakka River - Schewe Tract in Sarasota County.

Myakka River - Deer Prairie Creek Preserve and Myakka River - Schewe Tract are located west of North Port, east of the Myakka River, and north and south of Interstate 75. Approximately 499 acres will be burned in small, manageable units.

Some major benefits of prescribed fire include:

  • Reducing overgrown plants, which decreases the risk of catastrophic wildfires.
  • Promoting the growth of new, diverse plants.
  • Maintaining the character and condition of wildlife habitat.
  • Maintaining access for public recreation.

The District conducts prescribed fires on approximately 30,000 acres each year.

Click here to see aerial footage from a prescribed fire in the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve where District land management staff burned 320 acres.

New year, same goal: A debris-free Florida

Florida is unique as the only state that borders both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. No matter where you are in the state, you’re never more than 60 miles from the nearest body of water. It also means that the daily choices and activities of Florida’s residents and visitors can easily lead to debris in our coastal and marine habitats. Luckily, our partners across the region are kicking off the New Year with renewed energy and effort in leading marine debris removal and prevention projects to keep Florida’s waters healthy and free of debris.

Students at Eckerd College and the University of North Florida are learning to reduce their single-use plastic consumption by making sustainable purchasing and personal decisions to ultimately prevent marine debris. The project’s Plastic Reduction Challenges gave students the opportunity to use a smartphone app to track their use of both plastic and plastic alternative items. During these challenges, the students also completed surveys to gauge their knowledge, views, and beliefs related to plastics, and whether their views changed over time. Through educational opportunities, workshops, and campus and community cleanups, students are learning firsthand the environmental impacts of their daily choices.