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

Water-Related News

Research finds dolphins with elevated mercury levels in Florida and Georgia

In a study with potential implications for the oceans and human health, scientists have reported elevated mercury levels in dolphins in the U.S. Southeast, with the greatest levels found in dolphins in Florida's St. Joseph and Choctawhatchee Bays.

Dolphins are considered a "sentinel species" for oceans and human health, because like us, they are high up in the food chain, live long lives, and share certain physiological traits with humans. Some staples of their diet, such as spot, croaker, weakfish and other small fish, are most vulnerable to mercury pollution and are also eaten by people.

The study, which appears in the journal Toxics, drew no conclusions about Florida and Georgia residents' mercury levels or the potential health risks to humans. It did, however, cite previous research by a different group of researchers that found a correlation between high mercury levels in dolphins in Florida's Indian River Lagoon and humans living in the area.

"As a sentinel species, the bottlenose dolphin data presented here can direct future studies to evaluate mercury exposure to human residents" in the Southeast and other potentially affected areas in the United States, the authors of the study in Toxics wrote.

EPA is asked to set blue-green algae toxin standards for Florida

Federal environmental officials had recommended criteria in 2019 for two of the most common cyanotoxins, but advocates and the mayor Stuart say Florida never implemented them, nor explained their decision not to do so.

Florida’s lakes, rivers, springs and estuaries have some of the nation’s worst toxic algae blooms, which can threaten the health of people and wildlife, while costing local economies hundreds of millions of dollars.

The blooms are said to be fueled by nutrient pollution, water-management decisions and climate change.

Now, the Center for Biological Diversity, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, Calusa Waterkeeper, Friends of the Everglades, Florida Wildlife Federation, and the city of Stuart have asked the federal government to set limits on blue-green algae toxins found in Florida waters.

The EPA had officially recommended criteria in 2019 for two of the most common cyanotoxins: microcystins and cylindrospermopsin.

States are not required to adopt the EPA recommendations, but they are supposed to explain their reasoning for not adopting them, and the Center for Biological Diversity said the state has not done that.

Florida agriculture fuels algae blooms — how much remains unclear.

The Blue-Green Algae Task Force wants data on the state's strategy for curbing farm-related nutrient pollution.

Nutrients from fertilizers and animal waste can move from Florida farms to waterways, fueling harmful algal blooms. But assessing farms’ nutrient pollution – and gauging the success of the state’s efforts to reduce it – remains a significant challenge.

That was one of the main takeaways from the Blue-Green Algae Task Force’s meeting on June 4 at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research & Education Center – Suwannee Valley. The Task Force convened at the center in Live Oak to learn about the science behind Florida’s strategy to manage nutrient pollution from agriculture, the state’s second-largest industry.

The lynchpin of this strategy is a set of tools and techniques known as Best Management Practices, or BMPs. The goal of BMPs is to keep nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus in the soil where they can boost crop growth – and keep them out of water where they can supercharge toxic algae that threaten public health, wildlife and local economies.

Examples of BMPs include using precision irrigation systems, cover crops and controlled release fertilizers. Florida growers in water-impaired regions must either implement BMPs or demonstrate their compliance with state standards through water quality monitoring. The state also offers cost-share assistance to bring BMP investments, such as new equipment, within farmers’ financial reach.

But just how much these practices are reducing nutrient pollution from Florida farms is unclear – and something the Task Force would like to know.

Volunteers needed to help monitor bay health

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The summer Eyes on Seagrass citizen science program runs July 6th - 21st!

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program is looking for volunteers with boats to help survey sites in Sarasota Bay. All training and gear will be provided.

What is Eyes on Seagrass?

The Eyes on Seagrass Program is a bi-annual citizen science event in partnership with Florida Sea Grant, Mote Marine Laboratory, and Sarasota and Manatee counties to measure macroalgae (i.e. seaweed) and seagrass coverage. The program was started in Charlotte Harbor and expanded in 2021 to cover Sarasota Bay in response to a data gap in macroalgae monitoring. During a sampling window in April and July, participants travel to various locations throughout Sarasota Bay to collect information on macroalgae and seagrass. Results are then integrated into the Sarasota Bay Ecosystem Health Report Card.

Frequently asked Questions

  • Do I need a boat to participate?
    Most likely yes (or team up with someone who has a boat). Almost all of the sites are reachable only by boat.
  • Can I participate if I've never done it before?
    Yes! Anyone can participate! We will have in-person training. You can also read the sampling instructions and watch the training video to learn how it's done. Students can earn community service hours for participating.
  • How deep are the sites?
    Seagrass grows in shallower areas in our bay. Sample sites typically are between 2ft and 5ft deep.
Please visit the link below for more information and to sign up!

USF Ocean Circulation Lab braces for a busy hurricane season

There’s never a dull moment in the Ocean Circulation Lab at the USF College of Marine Science. Surface buoys need maintenance. Bottom mounts equipped with ocean monitoring instruments need to be recovered from the seafloor.

When hurricane season rolls around, busy gets a new meaning for the lab, which operates several high-resolution models that forecast currents and water levels along the western coast of Florida.

“Hurricane season can be a very demanding time of year for us,” says Yonggang Liu, associate research professor and director of the Ocean Circulation Lab (OCL). “Our lab has been quick to respond to tropical storms in the past to make sure we can provide the most reliable data possible to people who need them most.”

Above-average ocean temperatures and the influence of La Niña have put Liu and his team on high alert going into the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts 17 to 25 named storms and four to seven major hurricanes (Category 3 and higher).

While hurricanes are categorized by wind speed, water is what often gives them their deadly power.

Storm surge — the sudden rise in water level typically associated with low-pressure weather systems — has been shown to account for nearly half of all fatalities from tropical storms.

OCL researchers are hard at work improving storm surge forecasting capabilities along the west coast of Florida. First developed by the lab more than a decade ago, the West Florida Coastal Ocean Model (WFCOM) and Tampa Bay Coastal Ocean Model (TBCOM) can now be used to forecast water levels days before hurricane landfall.

SBEP Director’s Note: The data (and the fish) show that the bay is getting better

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From Sarasota Bay Estuary Program Director Dave Tomasko:

As you know, the upper and lower portions of Sarasota Bay are different from each other in important ways. That portion of the bay north of the Ringling Bridge is much wider and contains more and deeper water than the area between Ringling Bridge and Venice Inlet. Conversely, the watershed is much larger in the lower bay than in the upper bay. For example, Philippi Creek’s watershed is about 1/3rd of the total watershed for the entire bay. As a result, the watershed-to-open water ratio is much higher in the lower bay than in the upper bay. That is one of the reasons why the water in the lower bay does not look like the water in the upper bay, nor did it look like the upper bay in pre-development times, most likely. That is also one of the reasons why our Ecosystem Health Report Card does not compare, for example, Little Sarasota Bay against Palma Sola Bay, or Blackburn Bay against the open waters of Upper Sarasota Bay.

Instead, our Report Card compares each bay segment against what it was during the period of 2006 to 2012. Why those years? Well, because we have actual data on all the four components of our Report Card (in the lower bay) as far back as 2006. The limiting factor, in terms of how far back we can go, is the data set for macroalgae. There’s been a lot of focus on macroalgae lately – not just here but across the state and globally, so much so that we had a three-day workshop on macroalgae three years ago -2021-Florida-Macroalgae-Workshops-Report.pdf. If you don’t have data, all you can do is wave your hands around about what you think it used to be like. We don’t and won’t do that. And so we have a Report Card that goes back as far in time as our macroalgae dataset.

Florida homebuyers are getting more transparency about flood history

For the first time, Florida home sellers will have to disclose certain aspects of a property’s flood history, under legislation Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law this week.

The measure is seen as an important step toward addressing growth and development in risky areas, an issue that has gained prominence since Hurricane Ian dropped historic amounts of rain here in 2022, causing widespread flooding. Ian was the costliest hurricane in state history and third-costliest on record in the United States, after Katrina in 2005 and Harvey in 2017.

Before this law passed, Florida, uniquely vulnerable to sea level rise, precipitation changes and intensifying storms, had been one of 18 states where no flood disclosure was required as part of a home transaction.

By 2045, some $26 billion in residential real estate is poised to face chronic flooding, with Miami, the Florida Keys and the Tampa-St. Petersburg area especially at risk, according to the Union for Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group.

“Having the information will help buyers make more informed and better decisions about protecting what is likely to be their single biggest asset, their homes,” said Rachel Cleetus, policy director at the Union for Concerned Scientists. “It is an important moment for home buyers.”

The focus at Warm Mineral Springs Park turns from demolition to restoration

The North Port City Commission voted to have city staff come up with an analysis of the cost to restore the buildings, along with flood mitigation and insurance options.

The North Port City Commission is halting any exploration into demolishing three historic buildings at Warm Mineral Springs Park.

Earlier this week, the commission instead voted to have city staff come up with a full-cost analysis on how much it'd cost to restore the historic cyclorama, spa and sales building on the property, along with flood mitigation and insurance options.

The city had entered a public-private partnership with a development group last year to fully redevelop the park, which caught plenty of public backlash. The partnership ended earlier this year without a deal in place.

A February report from architecture firm Sweet Sparkman listed the price for restoring the old sales building, spa and cyclorama at between $11 million and $13 million.

The Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation presented a potential plan to the commission that would have the city invest $5 million up front for restoration, and then more money over the course of four years to complete its revitalization.

Commissioners showed some concerns on the potential costs of restoration for the buildings on Warm Mineral Springs.

But Tony Souza, chairman of the Sarasota County Historic Preservation Board, said the city can apply for several grants and programs to mitigate that price.

"[Warm Mineral Springs] is something that's probably world-known,” Souza said. “And when you talk about ‘this is the only thing we have in North Port,’ it's not the only thing you have. But this is the greatest thing, because it's much bigger than this whole area."

North Port Vice Mayor Phil Stokes says he wants to see the city make the investment toward the buildings, regardless if the money is earned from taxpayers or a revenue bond.

"I think we ought to work to do this,” Stokes said. “I think people want to do it. I think it'd be great for our city. In the long run, that whole area of mineral springs should become a wonderful, exciting district.”

Mote and partners receive $3.2 million from DEP to combat harmful algal blooms

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Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, in collaboration with commercial and academic partners, were awarded $3.2 million in grants from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to fund three projects focused on preventing blue-green algal blooms and testing water quality technologies that reduce nutrient pollution levels.

The grants are part of the Innovative Technology Grant Program in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which funds projects that evaluate and implement innovative technologies and solutions to combat algal blooms and nutrient enrichment, restore and preserve Florida water bodies, and implement water quality treatment technologies.

“We know first-hand how devastating Harmful Algae Blooms can be,” said Dr. Michael P. Crosby, Mote President & CEO. “We’re thrilled DEP recognized the important role that Mote plays in the development of new technologies and science-based approaches for mitigating the impacts of HABs to the environment, economy and quality of life in Florida communities and around the world. We’re thankful that the state has remained steadfast in its commitment to utilizing best available science for enhancing water quality in both marine and freshwater ecosystems. Florida has led the U.S. with its continued strategic investments in innovative technologies to detect, prevent, and mitigate harmful algal blooms in the most effective, efficient and environmentally sensitive manner possible.”

Florida’s beaches and waterways have been severely impacted by toxic algae. Harmful algal blooms (HABs) occur when algae — simple organisms that live in the sea and freshwater — grow out of control while producing toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds. There are many kinds of HABs, caused by a variety of algal and cyanobacterial groups with different toxins.

Florida red tide is one of the most commonly known HABs. However, the three projects funded under the Innovative Technology Grant Program look at mitigation and prevention techniques of cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae, which are another type of HABs affecting Florida’s waterways that is known to be directly influenced by excess nutrients entering waterways.

Blue-green algae are microscopic organisms found naturally in fresh, brackish (combined salt and freshwater), and marine water. Blue green algae blooms are characterized by blue, bright green, brown or red paint-like streaks on the surface of the water, dense scum, or foam that can emit unpleasant odors.

In warm, nutrient-rich (high in phosphorus and nitrogen) environments, cyanobacteria can multiply quickly, creating blooms that spread across the water’s surface. Similar to other HABs like Florida red tide, blue-green algae can produce toxins that harm fish, mammals and people.

Outdoor burn ban in effect for North Port

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NORTH PORT – Per City Ordinance 26-28, the City of North Port Fire Chief has determined that an Extraordinary Fire Hazard now exists due to extreme drought conditions and wildfire threat; therefore, an Outdoor Burning Ban is enacted within the City limits effective immediately. This ban will remain in place until rescinded.

Present conditions in the State and local region:

  • The Sarasota County area has reached only 8% of its average rainfall for this month with 9 days remaining and we are 30% behind year to date averages for rainfall .
  • Within the City of North Port, the KBDI Drought Index that measures moisture in the vegetation and duff is up to 610 on scale of 0-800, and the Fire Index for the Sarasota County area is High on the Fire Danger Index (FDI).

The burn ban specifically prohibits any type of outdoor fire, such as campfires, land clearing burning, and pile burns. This prohibition does not affect permits issued by the Florida Forest Service although we are working very closely with them on effects and forecasting. Outdoor cooking fires in approved gas or charcoal BBQ grills are permitted; however, extreme caution is urged with these devices as well.

We encourage our citizens to inform each other of the ban to help prevent a fire. During this time of extreme drought, we caution all citizens to take precautions when parking cars in dry grass, carelessly tossing a lighted cigarette, or anything that could cause a spark or ignition source.