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

Water-Related News

FWC now accepting applications for newly created Vessel Turn-In Program

FWC logo

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is now accepting applications for a recently approved and newly created Vessel Turn-In Program, a key component of Florida’s derelict vessel prevention program.

VTIP is a voluntary program designed to help owners dispose of their unwanted at-risk vessels before they become derelict. Upon approval of an application, VTIP will take a surrendered vessel and dispose of it at no cost to the boat owner. Removing the vessel before it deteriorates into a derelict condition will prevent legal ramifications for the vessel owner and will protect Florida’s valuable seagrass resources, marine life, and human life, safety, and property.

A derelict vessel upon waters of the state is a criminal offense and can carry serious penalties and fines or possible jail time.

“Acting now is the best way to prevent legal action from occurring if the vessel becomes derelict,” said Phil Horning, VTIP Administrator.

To qualify for VTIP, a vessel must be floating upon waters of the state of Florida and cannot be determined derelict by law enforcement. The owner must have at least one written at-risk warning or citation and possess a clear title to the vessel.

To apply for or view program guidelines, visit MyFWC.com/VTIP or call the FWC Boating and Waterways Division at 850-488-5600 for more information.

Expedition retraces a legendary explorer’s travels through the once-pristine Everglades

Changes in water quality will be an important facet of the expedition

In 1897, the explorer and amateur scientist Hugh de Laussat Willoughby climbed into a canoe and embarked on a coast-to-coast expedition of the Florida Everglades, a wilderness then nearly as vast as the peninsula itself and as unknown, he wrote, as the “heart of Africa.”

Willoughby and his guide were the first non-Native Americans to traverse the Everglades from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, and Willoughby’s meticulous notes, charts and water samples would form the basis of scientists’ historical understanding of the legendary “river of grass.”

Now a new expedition has retraced his trek, with the goal of measuring the impact of modern humanity on a watershed that today is among the most altered on Earth and responsible for the drinking water of some 12 million Floridians.

The expedition also commemorates the 75th anniversary of Everglades National Park, which was dedicated on Dec. 6, 1947.

“We think we will see the full spectrum, from one of the most remote parts of the continental United States to one of the most urbanized parts of the United States – all in one watershed, all in one trip,” said Harvey Oyer, co-leader of the four-member expedition and the author of a series of children’s books about the historical Florida frontier. “That, I think more than anything else, will illustrate humanity’s impact from the time of Willoughby to today.”

Willoughby’s thorough work provides a tantalizing opportunity to compare conditions in the Everglades then and now. Traveling the region’s rivers and canals over six days and some 130 miles, Oyer and the team drew water samples from the same spots as Willoughby, according to coordinates he documented, sometimes from some of the most remote and hard-to-reach parts of the subtropical region.

The water samples are being analyzed at the University of Florida for the same constituents that Willoughby examined, such as magnesium and sulfates, along with nutrients now known to affect the Everglades like phosphorus and nitrogen.

The samples are also being tested for modern pollutants like microplastics, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), pesticides and pharmaceuticals. It will be a few months before the analysis is complete. The team wrapped u

Registration is open for the 2023 Florida Waters Stewardship Program

FWSP logo

Become a Water Steward – Working With Water, Working With People

To make a difference for water in our community, we must understand the various ways in which we interact with water. As Floridians, we are connected to our streams and bays by our faucets and laundries, to our neighborhood ponds and lakes by our yards and streets, and to our regional and statewide neighbors by our surface and groundwater supplies. This program will use expert presentations, experiential learning, field experience in watershed science, and communication skills training to foster a greater understanding of these interactions and provide the tools necessary to become stewards of our water resources.

During this seven-session course, stewards will travel to locations across Sarasota and Manatee County 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. The cost is $100 for all 7 sessions.

To register (via Eventbrite.com) please visit the link below.

Sessions include:

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

This course has limited seating/availability. Register early to reserve your spot. For more information about this course,

How floating wetlands are helping to clean up urban waters

As cities around the world look to rid their waterways of remaining pollution, researchers are installing artificial islands brimming with grasses and sedges. The islands’ surfaces attract wildlife, while the underwater plant roots absorb contaminants and support aquatic life.

Floating wetlands were first tested in retention ponds, the kind often located near developments to hold stormwater, to see if they filtered pollution. “The front end of it was, ‘Will they work? How well do they work? And what plants should we recommend?’” says Sarah White, an environmental toxicologist and horticulturalist at Clemson University who has worked on floating wetlands since 2006. Partnering with researchers at Virginia Tech, White found that the wetland plants she tested not only did well in ponds with lots of nutrient pollution, but the adaptable, resilient plants actually thrived. She did not always choose native plants, opting instead for those that would make the islands more attractive, so that more urban planners would use them.

Registration open for the 2022 Water Quality Update

Sarasota County logo

SARASOTA COUNTY – Registration is now open for Sarasota County's Water Quality Virtual Update on Monday, Dec. 5.

The virtual update will highlight the county's ongoing commitment to water quality education, outreach initiatives and improvement projects.

Sarasota County staff, along with Sarasota County Commissioner Ron Cutsinger, will deliver updates and comments.

County departments taking part in the update include Public Utilities, Public Works, Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources, Planning and Development Services and UF/IFAS Extension and Sustainability. In addition, presentations from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation on the Playbook for Healthy Waterways, and Sarasota Bay Estuary Program on State of the Bay and Impacts of Hurricane Ian, will also be included.

The event will provide an opportunity for the community to hear from county officials. Those topics include Playbook for Healthy Waterways, County Water Quality Projects and Policy Update, and What You Can Do Update. An interactive session will also address actions that individuals and neighborhoods can do to support water quality.

The update is an extension of the Water Quality Summit held by Sarasota County in 2019.

"Water quality is a priority issue both locally and across the state," said Lee-Hayes Byron, director of Sarasota County UF/IFAS Extension and Sustainability. "We look forward to this opportunity to update residents and businesses who care deeply about our local waters."

The update will be held 3-5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 5. To register for the event visit the following link:
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2022-sarasota-county-water-quality-virtual-update-webinar-registration-425661403717

For additional information call 311 or visit scgov.net.

FWC Harmful Algal Bloom Grant Program funds three projects

FWC logo

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’s Harmful Algal Bloom Grant Program has awarded funding to three projects to address research related to Karenia brevis. The HAB Grant Program supports projects that address recommendations of the HAB Task Force.

Title: Composite Red Tide Vulnerability Index (CRTVI): Assessing and communicating vulnerability of coastal communities to Red Tide in Florida

Principal Investigator: Christa D. Court, University of Florida

Co-Principal Investigators: Lisa Krimsky, Angie Lindsey, Andrew Ropicki and Ricky Telg, University of Florida; David Yoskowitz, Harte Research Institute

Summary: This project leverages recent research results quantifying the socioeconomic, health and environmental impacts of red tide events to develop a Composite Red Tide Vulnerability Index that can quantify the vulnerability of coastal communities in Florida to the impacts of red tide events. The CRTVI can increase general awareness and be used as an objective criterion to help decision-makers both identify areas that are more vulnerable to impacts stemming from red tide events and design systems to better prepare for, respond to and mitigate red tide event impacts.

Award: $295,304, January 2023-June 2024

View Abstract »

Title: Developing a Physical-Biological Model of Karenia brevis Red Tide for the West Florida Shelf

Principal Investigator: Yonggang Liu, University of South Florida

Summary: This project partners the University of South Florida Ocean Circulation Lab with FWRI HAB Researchers to develop a physical-biological model of Karenia brevis red tide for the West Florida Shelf, with a long-term goal of being able to simulate and forecast red tide.

Award: $299,349, January 2023-June 2024

View Abstract »

Title: A land-based shellfish depuration mitigation strategy to increase business opportunities and reduce economic losses associated with extended lease closures following red tide exposure

Principal Investigator: Dana Wetzel, Mote Marine Laboratory

Co-Principal Investigators: Tracy Sherwood, Mote Marine Laboratory

Summary: This project aims to develop feasible land-based depuration protocols that allow shellfish farmers in red tide-impacted regions to have the chance to regain their crops and thereby sustain shellfish production.

Award: $246,326, January 2023-June 2024

View Abstract »

Here, there, everywhere: Red tide plagues SWFL after Hurricane Ian

Florida Department of Health officials in Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee, and Collier counties are issuing health alerts daily warning of the real and present danger to human and animals.

Red tide is everywhere.

From Tampa Bay south to Ten Thousand Islands, local groups and state agencies that test for and track red tide are warning that the harmful algae that kills fish, sickens dogs, and whose acrid air chase people off the beach is here.

And there. And there. And there.

Red tide was detected at every beach in Sarasota County soon after Hurricane Ian made landfall near Fort Myers in late September. Earlier this month, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission found the red tide organism, Karenia brevis, in nearly 100 samples throughout Southwest Florida. v Florida Department of Health officials in Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee, and Collier counties, taken as a group, are issuing health alerts daily warning of the real and present danger to human and animals.

The red tide is so prevalent, so pungent, and so potentially poisonous that the authors of the health advisories ignored the long-established practice of softening the language to avoid scaring away tourists.

“Stay away from the water,” a Charlotte County health advisory warned. “Do not swim in waters with dead fish. Wash your skin and clothing with soap and fresh water if you have had recent contact with red tide. Those with chronic respiratory problems should be especially cautious and stay away … as red tide can affect your breathing. Keep pets and livestock away and out of the water, sea foam and dead sea life. If your pet swims in waters with red tide, wash it as soon as possible. Do not harvest or eat molluscan shellfish or distressed or dead fish from this location. Residents may want to wear masks.”

Petition urges USFWS protect Florida manatees as endangered

Calling declines in Florida's manatee population “dramatic” a coalition of groups have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to increase protections for the aquatic mammal.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic, Miami Waterkeeper, Save the Manatee Club and Frank S. González García filed the petition Monday. The petition urges the federal wildlife agency to reclassify the species from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

"Since the service prematurely reduced protections in 2017, the species has declined dramatically," a release from the groups about the petition said.

According to information provided by the groups, pollution-fueled algae blooms sparked an ongoing mortality event that killed more than 1,110 Florida manatees in 2021 alone -- 19 percent of the Atlantic population and 13 percent of all manatees in Florida.

The deaths continued this year, the groups said, with 726 manatees dying through October. Manatee experts predict that the high levels of malnourished and starving manatees will continue throughout the winter.

“West Indian manatees from Florida to the Caribbean are facing drastic threats from habitat loss, boat strikes, pollution, climate change and toxic algae blooms," said Ben Rankin, a student attorney at the Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic. “The restoration of full Endangered Species Act protections is an essential first step in conserving this species everywhere it is found.”

Red tide is drifting north and is now at the mouth of Tampa Bay

High concentrations of the organism that causes red tide has been found in Southwest Florida since Hurricane Ian made landfall. Now, it's slowly moving north.

Red tide is drifting north along the Gulf coast from Southwest Florida and is now being found at the mouth of Tampa Bay.

Red tide, which has been found off the coast of Manatee and Sarasota counties, is inching north. Water samples taken this week by state environmental officials show very low concentrations of the organism that causes red tide was detected along the Sunshine Skyway and the northern tip of Anna Maria Island, where Tampa Bay meets the Gulf of Mexico.

Medium to high concentrations were found along every beach in southern Manatee and Sarasota counties. State officials had issued a health advisory warning last week for all beaches in Sarasota, warning people about respiratory irritation and dead fish.

This week, that warning was extended to beaches in Manatee County, including Bayfront Park, Coquina Beach South, Longboat Pass/Coquina Boat Ramp and the Rod and Reel Pier on Anna Maria Island.

High concentrations have been found south of Sarasota since Hurricane Ian struck in September.

People with respiratory problems should stay away from the water. Residents living along the beach should close their windows and run air conditioning.

UPDATE: FWC extends derelict vessel waiver to Dec. 31st

FWC logo

UPDATED INFORMATION: Following Hurricane Ian’s landfall, vessel owners were given a 45-day grace period to bring derelict vessels into compliance or remove them from state waters. The grace period ended on Nov. 15. The number of impacted vessels is significant and many residents are still assessing damages. Taking these factors into consideration, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has decided to extend the waiver acceptance deadline through the end of December.

Visit the link below for more details.


Original notice below:

Vessel owners have until 45 days after Ian crossed the state to get their vessels out of derelict condition. The end of the grace period is Nov. 15.

Owners are encouraged to hire a salvage company to recover their vessel to provide the safest method possible for the vessel and the environment. If they are unable to salvage their vessels, lack the resources to have their boat repaired or if their vessel is determined to be beyond repair, they may release ownership of their vessel.

Waivers are available for removal and destruction and owners will not be charged for any removal costs. This process can be initiated by contacting the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) through the Hurricane Ian Vessel Hotline at 850-488-5600 and requesting to turn over a derelict vessel. An FWC representative will then contact the owner to explain the waiver process and facilitate the potential turnover of ownership.

To date, the FWC has received approximately 50 waivers from affected boat owners in the Lee County area.

If a derelict vessel is not brought into compliance or removed from the water by Nov. 15, it will be treated as any other derelict vessel. At this time, the FWC will not be charging displaced vessel owners with a criminal violation of Florida law but the decision to hold vessel owners responsible for removal, destruction and disposal costs could be made at a future date.

FWC officers continue to work tirelessly with partner agencies to assess vessels displaced by Hurricane Ian. Over 3,000 vessels have been assessed and research teams are contacting owners and insurance companies to provide information, guidance and reunite vessel owners with their property.

We have water and land-based teams assessing vessels. If your vessel is missing or you have located a vessel on state waters displaced by the hurricane, please report it to our Hurricane Ian Vessel Hotline: 850-488-5600. For all other vessels, the Division of Emergency Management has established a hotline for vessel and property owners at 850-961-2002. for vessels on land.

Public safety remains the number one priority at the FWC. The FWC would like to remind the public that officers a

Longboat Key beaches in good condition after storms

After a hurricane and a tropical storm in the last six weeks, Longboat Key's beaches remain in good shape with the potential for improvement where erosion is particularly common. 

The town's Public Works staff presented their annual report to the Town Commission at Monday’s workshop. 

Annual reports first began in June 2020 as commissioners sought information about the status of beaches and ongoing nourishment projects.

Parts of the report centered on the condition of beaches following Hurricane Ian. The town’s beaches experienced minimal impact from the storm as it made landfall about 50 miles south of its previously forecast track, generally with offshore blowing winds. 

Conditions after tropical storm Nicole had not yet been fully analyzed, but beach consultant Olsen Associates performed a few initial aerial passes on the North End. A full review is planned for completion by Programs Manager Charlie Mopps starting next week. 

Photos show contaminated water plaguing southwest Florida

TAMPA – Aerial photos revealed massive plumes of red tide stretching along much of southwest Florida’s coast days after Tropical Storm Nicole passed over the state.

Photos released by Calusa Waterkeeper showed a deep reddish-brown discoloration of the water near Naples and Sanibel due to the presence of red tide “and other phytoplankton species,” the non-profit organization said in a Facebook post.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, beaches from Sarasota to Port Charlotte vary between low, medium, and high levels of red tide.

The harmful algal blooms are commonly known to cause mild and short-lived respiratory symptoms in humans such as eye, nose, and throat irritation like those associated with the common cold or seasonal sinus allergies, the Florida Department of Health said.

Blooms are also known to last for months, depending on wind conditions.

FWC reminds owners unable to salvage their storm-damaged vessels that waivers are still available

FWC logo

Vessel owners have until 45 days after Ian crossed the state to get their vessels out of derelict condition. The end of the grace period is Nov. 15.

Owners are encouraged to hire a salvage company to recover their vessel to provide the safest method possible for the vessel and the environment. If they are unable to salvage their vessels, lack the resources to have their boat repaired or if their vessel is determined to be beyond repair, they may release ownership of their vessel.

Waivers are available for removal and destruction and owners will not be charged for any removal costs. This process can be initiated by contacting the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) through the Hurricane Ian Vessel Hotline at 850-488-5600 and requesting to turn over a derelict vessel. An FWC representative will then contact the owner to explain the waiver process and facilitate the potential turnover of ownership.

To date, the FWC has received approximately 50 waivers from affected boat owners in the Lee County area.

If a derelict vessel is not brought into compliance or removed from the water by Nov. 15, it will be treated as any other derelict vessel. At this time, the FWC will not be charging displaced vessel owners with a criminal violation of Florida law but the decision to hold vessel owners responsible for removal, destruction and disposal costs could be made at a future date.

FWC officers continue to work tirelessly with partner agencies to assess vessels displaced by Hurricane Ian. Over 3,000 vessels have been assessed and research teams are contacting owners and insurance companies to provide information, guidance and reunite vessel owners with their property.

We have water and land-based teams assessing vessels. If your vessel is missing or you have located a vessel on state waters displaced by the hurricane, please report it to our Hurricane Ian Vessel Hotline: 850-488-5600. For all other vessels, the Division of Emergency Management has established a hotline for vessel and property owners at 850-961-2002. for vessels on land.

Public safety remains the number one priority at the FWC. The FWC would like to remind the public that officers a

After Ian, North Port residents face exorbitant utility fees. City leaders want to change that

North Port officials say residents who want to temporarily discontinue services could face a $27,000 reconnection fee.

In North Port, some mobile home residents who are rebuilding after Hurricane Ian are faced with a choice: pay $55 for continued water and sewage service or pay a $77 disconnection fee and incur a $27,000 bill for future reconnection.

Utilities director Nancy Gallinaro said this is an oversight of the city's current service utility code. But city leaders have plans to rectify it.

"We have to help people through a catastrophic event like this," Gallinaro said. "I suspect, in many cases, [this] was not factored into new codes."

The current city regulations governing water and wastewater rates, last updated in October 2022, require a $55.95 monthly base-rate fee. To connect a new account to the city's central services, other one-time fees include a: capacity fee ($4,000), meter installation charge ($1,000), water extension charge ($7,500) and sewer extension charge ($15,000).

While that's standard cost to extend water and wastewater capacity to new construction, assistant utilities director Jennifer Desrosiers said that same fee schedule shouldn't apply to preexisting North Port customers who have lost their homes during a major storm.

"Part of our code says that when you want to reconnect — you will pay capacity fees, meter fees and it would be considered a new account," Desrosiers said.

During a city commission meeting on Nov. 8, leadership asked staff to research an exemption that would allow Ian survivors to waive exorbitant line extension fees for water and sewage services.

Red tide conditions return to Southwest Florida

FWC logo

Current Conditions – Nov. 9th, 2022

The red tide organism, Karenia brevis, was detected in Southwest Florida. Over the past week, K. brevis was observed in 50 samples. Bloom concentrations (>100,000 cells/liter) were present in 15 samples: seven in Sarasota County and eight in and offshore of Charlotte County. Additional details are provided below.
  • In Southwest Florida over the past week, K. brevis was observed at background to low concentrations offshore of Hillsborough County, background concentrations in Manatee County, background to high concentrations in and offshore of Sarasota County, very low to high concentrations in and offshore of Charlotte County, very low and low concentrations in Lee County, and low concentrations offshore of Collier County.
  • Reports of fish kills suspected to be related to red tide were received over the past week in Southwest Florida in Sarasota, Charlotte, and Lee counties. For more details, please visit: https://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/health/fish-kills-hotline/.
  • Respiratory irritation suspected to be related to red tide was reported over the past week in Southwest Florida in Sarasota, Charlotte, and Lee counties. Additional details are provided in the Southwest Coast report. For recent and current information at individual beaches, please visit https://visitbeaches.org/ and for forecasts that use FWC and partner data, please visit https://habforecast.gcoos.org/.
Forecasts by the USF-FWC Collaboration for Prediction of Red Tides for Pinellas County to northern Monroe County predict net western movement of surface waters and net southeastern transport of subsurface waters in most areas over the next 3.5 days.

Due to the upcoming holiday, the next complete status report will be issued on Thursday, November 10th. Please check our daily sampling map, which can be accessed via the online status report on our Red Tide Current Status page. For more information on algal blooms and water quality, please visit Protecting Florida Together.

This information, including maps and reports with additional details, is also available on the FWRI Red Tide website. The website also provides links to additional information related to the topic of Florida red tide including satellite imagery, experimental red tide forecasts, shellfish harvesting areas, the FWC Fish Kill Hotline, the Florida Poison Information Center (to report human health effects related to exposure to red tide), and other wildlife related hotlines.

To learn more about various organisms that have been known to cause algal blooms in Florida waters, see the FWRI Red Tide Flickr page. Archived status maps can also be found on Flickr.

The FWRI HAB group in conjunction with Mote Marine Laboratory now have a Facebook page. Please like our page and learn interesting facts concerning red tide and other harmful algal blooms in Florida.

Researchers watching for potential algae surges as part of Hurricane Ian aftermath

Levels of blue-green algae surged after Hurricane Irma, causing massive mats and major fish kills months after the storm.

Could this happen again next spring? That, according to Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) ecology and environmental studies professor Barry Rosen, depends on several factors. Blue-green algae competes with aquatic plants for nutrients. If those plant populations were devastated by Ian, that would give the algae more room to grow.

“It’s possible that there’s been a die-off of those plants,” Rosen said, “and this spring when the blue-green algae start populating the river and they can come from the lake, both. What if the competition is gone?”

The algae also needs light to thrive. Right now, the water is still clouded with pollutants and runoff. and light levels are not ideal for a major algal bloom. The cloudiness of the water will change in the next few months, but will it be enough to cause major blooms?

“It’s usually March that you could start to see them,” Rosen says. “So, will it be a bad year? Hard to say.”

“I don’t know if we should expect it,” FGCU Water School professor Mike Parsons said, “but there’s enough evidence that we should definitely look into it and study it.”