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Nancy Smith

Red Tide Scientists Speak, but Some People Won't Listen

August 14, 2018 - 6:00am
Sanibel Island beach a week ago
Sanibel Island beach a week ago

Finally, the scientists.

The only question is, did they show up in time to dispel the ecoterrorist myths and other politically driven bullcrackers about Florida red tide? 

If you're looking for answers about the pall of death that's settled on Gulf Coast beaches, click here and spend the hour it takes to view Mote Marine Laboratory's forum from last week. Frankly, I wish you would. There's so much intentional confusion out there.

Mote, in Sarasota, is ground zero for Karenia brevis red tide. It is an independent research institution that has studied Florida red tide for decades in cooperation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, among other partners. 

(The Mote scientists' panel, by the way, is shown on this page: from left, Gretchen Lovewell, program manager for Mote’s Strandings Investigation Program; Dr. Rich Pierce, senior scientist and program manager for ecotoxicology research; Dr. Tracy Fanara, staff scientist and program manager for environmental health; Dr. Vince Lovko, staff scientist and program manager for phytoplankton ecology; and Hayley Rutger, content development manager and moderator.)

Unsurprisingly, the most frequent question residents asked the panel: Is Florida red tide related to the blue-green algae bloom plaguing the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries? The answer was no. 

Said Dr. Vince Lovko, "Blue-green algae is a type of bacteria that uses the energy of the sun like plants. Those are freshwater species and not always toxic. Karenia brevis, or red tide, is a marine organism that survives in a high-salinity environment. ... It can use at least 12 sources of nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients, making bloom dynamics extremely complex and challenging to sort out."

This panel Q&A isn't going to tell you how to stop red tide from moving onshore, or even why it can gravitate from one beach to another in a few hours. Scientists around the world are still working on that one. But it will help you separate fact from fiction, you'll discover the enormity of the thing you're dealing with and how you can help as a volunteer now and as a good citizen later.

I Beg to DifferScientists are still investigating theories and connections. For example, what specifically makes red tide grow, why you don't want to kill it, when it will leave, what effect climate change or Sahara dust might have on it and what breakthroughs are close.

Maybe it's a coincidence, but it seems to me since Friday's online forum, the press is taking greater care to make responsible distinctions in how they play red tide stories. See Kimberley Miller's "SPECIAL REPORT: A foul task -- cleaning up Florida’s red tide corpses" in the Palm Beach Post and Craig Pittman's "Red Tide’s toxic toll -- your questions answered" in the Tampa Bay Times.

The activist terrorists would have you believe coastal nutrient pollution caused Florida red tide. 

It did not.

It did not come from Lake Okeechobee or from the Caloosahatchee River or from state government.

Florida red tides develop 10-40 miles offshore, away from man-made nutrient sources. They occurred in Florida long before human settlement. Severe red tides were observed in the mid-1900s before the state’s coastlines were heavily developed.

The problem is, in the 21st Century, the coastlines really are developed. Intensely so. Once red tides are transported inshore toward such an active environment,  they can feast and grow on man-made nutrients.

Any nutrient that spills off the land -- fertilizer from farms, ranches, golf courses and homeowners' yards, road runoff, sewage, all the products of development ... and for that matter, even dead marine life the organism creates -- can Miracle-Gro a red tide bloom.

What the scientists didn't talk about are the activist-terrorists who seize any opportunity to exploit dead animals and noxious beaches to attack Gov. Rick Scott, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and farmers. They have no real solutions. They aren’t interested. Their strategy is simple: Get bad or flat-out wrong information accepted into the narrative, then you upset already frustrated people who in turn threaten farmers and the Okeechobee lakeside communities with violence. And just as important, maybe you elect the people they want you to elect.

Earlier last week CNN, with all its clout, sent reporter Bill Weir to Sanibel Island. Instead of matching a red tide story to the photos displayed of dead fish on the beach, Weir allowed his story to meander into Lake Okeechobee blame. "Scientists search for 'smoking gun' in the dead zone of Florida's red tide" failed to consider that Karenia brevis at times since October has stretched 150 miles along the coast and too far north for the Caloosahatchee to affect. Broadcast and written, it was a story with an agenda.  

But like I said, that's the information you want in your narrative if you're an activist terrorist.  You want people to confuse red tide and blue-green algae. You want to keep Lake Okeechobee "the valley of the shadow of death."

More disappointing than the CNN story was a commentary from Julie Hauserman, a reporter I hired many years back and have always considered one of the best environmental writers in Florida. Julie is editor-in-chief of the new political and government online site, Florida Phoenix. I knew she would give me a great read, but what I didn't expect was so much agenda in "Yes, this really is Rick Scott, Adam Putnam and Pam Bondi’s fault."

"Yes, this really is ..." blames dead manatees, marine mammals, fish and hundreds of sea turtles washing up on Florida’s southwest coast not on red tide, an organism born in oligotrophic offshore waters and pushed into coastal waters by winds and tides. Instread we can lay the death of these creatures at the feet of Scott, Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi for claiming that "setting pollution limits for sewage, manure and fertilizer runoff would be an 'onerous regulation' by an 'overbearing federal government.'"

The back story Julie never mentioned: During a deep recession, including a Florida unemployment rate above 11 percent, Environmental Protection Agency Director Lisa Jackson wanted to impose on Florida numeric nutrient standards she couldn't justify. A study by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the University of Florida projected the EPA mandates could have cost Florida up to $1.6 billion annually and eliminated 14,500 jobs. Plus, a survey of nine Florida water utilities estimated a household's sewer rates would have increased by $62 per month, or more than $700 per year. Even Sen. Bill Nelson objected because of "the potential cost of compliance."

In one analysis, PolitiFact concluded, "The new EPA water regulations would force the state to make drainage canals every bit as clean as pristine Florida river systems." A cost-prohibitive undertaking.

Incidentally, Mote scientists were asked specifically: Does red tide affect drinking water? "No," replied Dr. Tracy Fanara. "... Reverse osmosis equipment removes toxins."

I'm not going to kid myself. I know the activist-terrorists' agenda won't go away because Mote Marine Laboratory gave Floridians a Webinar with actual scientists who study red tide every day. They have too much at stake between the election and the money that flows in from billionaire patrons on a mission. But a lot of people watched the video and I believe understand more about red tide this week than they did last. I have hope.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith


An addendum to my previous comments..when Nancy Smith states that there are no anthropologic sources of nutrients ( N and P) to waters in the near marine offshore waters , she is sadly misinformed. Fossil - fueled power plants in this state..the third largest population in the country..emit tons of nitric oxides (NO and NO2 ) which is rapidly absorbed by seawater. These compounds are acidic and along with SO2 also from combustion of fossil fuels contribute to acid rain in Florida as well as the entire Eastern US. I was the first to publish these results for Florida in the journal “Science “ in 1980. Ms Smith needs to consult with the excellent scientists at the Tampa Bay Estuary Program located at Tierra Verde . They are well informed as to the nitrogen (N) loading from atmospheric deposition and effects on estuarine water quality. The red tide organism needs nitrogen ..from coastal runoff or atmospheric..does not matter .. Making statements that ...”red tide originates offshore and there are no man made influences “ ignores power plant emissions of NO and NO2 and the atmospheric deposition of these compounds to near shore aquatic ecosystems. Ms Smith needs a course in atmospheric and aquatic chemistry and also needs to stay away from the shark experts and start consulting with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program atmospheric deposition scientists.

I received a Ph.D in environmental engineering from the University of Florida and am a 5th generation Floridian. Hendry County on the Caloosahatchee River is named after my great grandfather. Many of the commenters to this article demonstrate astute knowledge of the issues associated with the ongoing disastrous red tide and algal blooms in SW Florida. Yes red tide blooms and the effects on marine life have been documented for more than a hundred years. Without question the input of nutrients (primarily N and P) into any ecosystem will increase productivity ..that is why we fertilize crops ,lawns ,home gardens,house plants, etc..However , allowing N and P uncontrolled releases into natural ecosystems will have disastrous consequences . My research on Lakes Apopka and Okeechobee in the 1970s showed that either N or P were always the limiting nutrients controlling algal growth ..singly or in combination depending on time of year .Discharges of N and P into the Caloosahatchee and St.Lucie waterways resulting in the observed blue green algal blooms is not a surprise ..I observed it time after time in nutrient studies in enclosed limno bag chambers in which N and P compounds were injected and effects monitored on the open waters of Lake O. All those studies were published in peer reviewed scientific journals. The massive blue green algal blooms observed the last few years on the Caloosahatchee and St . Lucie waterways were nonexistent 20 30 40 years ago. Perhaps greater discharges of N and P due to less Florida Department of Environmental Regulation oversight i.e. monitoring ..permitting ..enforcement ? Of course the FDEP (which is staffed by suburb scientists and engineers ..not the politically appointed administrators) for the last 8 yrs has been under and a puppet to the Scott Administration. The huge red tide blooms that occur in the Gulf..rarely occur in the Atlantic ..although N and P from Lake O is being discharged to both via Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie waterways. Generally Lake O is around 16ft above sea level so drainage down both waterways is gravitational as designed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1930s. Likley the higher energy(currents and wave action) of theAtlantic dissipates N and P more so than the more quiescent Gulf waters around San Carlos Bay , Sanibel , Captiva, Charlotte Harbor which allow greater contact time between brevis and the N and P in runofffrom Lake O down the Caloosahatchee and into the Gulf off SW Florida. As my famous professor (H.T. Odum) said ...ecological systems are static based on thousands of years of evolution way before homosapiens showed up .. 2000 people a week are showing up on this peninsula that Ponce de Leon named “The Land 0f Flowers” We drink eat and discharge all our wastes on La Florida .. She can only take so much ......

Did you know the lead scientist who did a 6 year study for Mote has a published study right in their library! Seems to me you have defined your own character!

This article is an insult. We are all painfully aware that red tide is a naturally occurring plague... but the fact that you clearly state that nutrient runoff acts like miracle grow to red tide, and then call everyone who is fighting to end nutrient pollution a terrorist, you are a hypocrite! Mote marine used to be a hero in my eyes. All you are is paid public relations specialists, aka highly educated liars.

How disappointing to read that anyone who is questioning Mote is an ecoterrorist. I've been in Florida for over 44 years and I've never seen it as bad as it is now on the west coast. We have water quality problems all over Florida, from Lake Okeechobee discharges to Mosaic poisoning our aquifers. People are starting to connect the dots and are getting tired of Mote's vague explanations for a phenomenon it's been studying for 30 years.

Patiently waiting for you to retract this article and apologize to every citizen of Florida for this garbage.

This reporter is a joke. Calling concerned citizens "terrorists". She is the real threat.... a one sided view full of technical mistakes on a complex subject. We, the citizen's have the right to question everyone and everyone who is connected in any way to our environment.... our home... Jack Clark, 55 year Florida resident.

It is appalling that the author of this article, Nancy Smith, calls out anyone who cares about our beloved planet and ocean a terrorist. How have we (environmental activists) come from being called “tree huggers” to “terrorists”.??

"Finally, the Scientists paid with money from the Phosphate Company and Rick Scott speak" - and, it seems like the good citizens here don't know how to listen. Here is a quote direct from Florida Government Web site - from Scientists: "once red tides are transported inshore, they are capable of using man-made nutrients for their growth." I wonder why people can't put 2 and 2 together. Whether the nutrients come from inland (fresh water) doesn't matter a lick - once they dump into the coastal water they are still "food". So, all the runoff and extra phosphates, etc. dump into the shallow gulf - and as Forida says "red tide uses these for growth".... It's not rocket science. Less phosphates and runoff (fertilizers, etc.) means less food for the red tide and other Algae blooms. Disinformation seems to be big here. People have to make up something that fits their existing mindset......after all, 20 million people and the biggest phosphate operations in the USA...and a Gov. who won't let words related to the environment be used......can't be affecting anything, right? It's all God...and if we just pray it will go away. You know, like "pray away the gay" we can pray away the stink". Anything is possible!

This article is the most politically motivated article i have ever read on Floridas water problems dealing with red tide and blue green algae. It sounds like a defense team in a court defending Gov Scott and our non working Government. from federal level to State level and even in the local level there are problems. Without activist absolutely nothing would change. This whole problem stems from the greed of money by big business billionaires and back pocket payoffs to our politicians. To tell us as per this ridiculous article, that the releasing of millions and millions of polluted water of nitrates by big sugar and chemicals etc is is not the cause is to say they think we the people are stupid. Billionaires and politicians are killing our earth and we seem helpless. What will it take to get our government to listen and work for the people. "a civil war" to save our precious god given paradise. I hope not! The anger by Americans is getting more and more serious, who knows what all this will lead to.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I attended the movie Toxic Puzzle at the Broadway Palm dinner theater earlier this week. I encourage everyone to watch this movie. It’s abailable on Amazon. There were 4 environmental scientists on the panel, 3 with PhD’s. The bottom line was we’d better get the politics out of this discussion or we’re finished. As it is, if we do manage to get rid of Scott and his ilk, it’s still going to take us years to attempt to recover. Rick Scott and his minions have systematically over the past 8 years dismantled every program the citizens of Florida have instituted to try to save our beautiful state. This is not a political statement. It is just plain fact. Now it’s election season and they all, seemingly overnight, have become big time environmentalists. GIVE ME A BREAK. HOW STUPID DO THEY THINK WE ARE. November is your chance to turn things around.

Own the view. The billboard reads, advertising a high rise condo in a gated for the rich community in Bonita. The fish are dead, or gone, or extinct in SWF. But the golf courses are green a trump likes. He can’t even pronounce Okeechobee, our very own snowbird can’t ever mention it in his bull shit he tweets. I hate him. And I will pray for his painful suffering death. I hate him. I hate you if you voted for him. I pray for your suffering death as well. Go to hell.

Wow, Jim. I live 15 minutes from Trump's Mar a Lago and loathe the idiot. And I also know better than the ramblings of this author. However, your last two sentences went waaaay overboard. Wishing death on people? Come on. It definitely does not help your point and helps this clearly politically driven article's points.

Jim, you are right on target. Thump thinks a border wall is more important than our ecosystem. Talking about multiple billions for a useless wall. Trump and people that think like Trump are killing our earth. What can we do? especially when you have a congress that is scared stiff of our tyrant president. Its not just the pollution here, its all over the country. Read about all the mines this administration wants to open. In some case taking our national treasures such as parks, canyons, Forrest and such out of Federal land protection and sell to billionaires to rape the land for money. With all thats going on and add global warming and the disaster of a perfect storm is bound to happen at some point in the not too distant future. We must become obsessed with holding our Government accountable or we will lose!

Hurricane Irma blew the red tide off shore It actually helped make the red tide go away last year Mosaic spilled 215 million gallon slurry rich phosphate down into the Florida aquifer Along with 4 other multi million gallon slurry spills End of story nobody talking about it by the way mote marine lab is backed by mosaic so they're not gonna cheese on there Money backer They should be ashamed of themselves Then my body which has been a captain for over 30 years gets interviewed by wink news 30 minute long conversation on what's going on possible causes and they cut the conversation down the 5 seconds no media censorship going on here people Call Titian skating around the answers and possible causes tried blaming it on the ocean temperature which has not risen in over 10 years and we have a 100 mile long red tide Bloom which is not natural Even know red tide is a natural occurring but the largest blooms are usually only 20 mile long blooms And go away in a week or 2 not staying around for over 2 years

Red tide is natural but not a 100 mile long red tide if you think this Isn't caused by mosaics fertilizer spill in 2017 215 million gallons of phosphate rich slurry down into the Florida aquifer You're a special kind of stupid And there was 4 more that I did not know about 65 million gallon into the peace river 81 million into Tampa Bay phosphate rich slurry spill Everybody's blaming the farmers and big sugar I blame mosaic There should be a total ban on phosphate sales in Florida period

Red tide is natural but not a 100 mile long red tide if you think this Isn't caused by mosaics fertilizer spill in 2017 215 million gallons of phosphate rich slurry down into the Florida aquifer You're a special kind of stupid And there was 4 more that I did not know about 65 million gallon into the peace river 81 million into Tampa Bay phosphate rich slurry spill Everybody's blaming the farmers and big sugar I blame mosaic There should be a total ban on phosphate sales in Florida period

Mosaic backs mote marine And the scientists will say anything for them but will not say anything against mosaic

This is such a biased, irrational, and totally partisan article that it really does not deserve a scientific or rational reply. What else can be concluded when the writer called those who are concerned about the environment "activist terrorists?" Nancy Smith must be aspiring to being on Fox. The scientific reality is that just because nutrient pollution, either from Lake O. discharges or from inadequately managed coastal development did not initiate and thus "cause" the red tide (because red tides usually initiate well offshore -- but even those offshore waters are probably affected by nutrients transported from the coast) does not mean that Lake O. discharges and nutrient pollution from poorly managed coastal development are not responsible for the scale, intensity, and duration of the present red tide conditions. Any knowledgeable and credible marine scientist would understand that and say so. Even what the Mote scientists said and have said does not controvert the likelihood that decades of ecological degradation and mismanagement have and will continue to make red tide events worse and worse. Can Rick Scott and Adam Putnam be directly blamed? Only partially so, because they have been just those with the most recent political influence that has allowed the environmental degradation to continue and accelerate. Vern Buchanan and his predecessors like Dan Miller, Connie Mack, and Porter Goss share blame for failing to truly care about the SW Florida environment and by thinking that bringing political pork back to Mote could be a substitute for good environmental stewardship. But an article like this from Ms. Smith that tries to twist scientific information in a way to falsely suggest that red tide is not "caused" lack of proper environmental management is dangerous, shameful, and just plain wrong.

Dr. EDWARDS, I could not have put it better sir. Thank you for the well thought commentary on Ms Smith's piece. I'm new to central Florida. The is no doubt we need to reroute the water flow in this State to what nature intended before the Army Corps messed things up. Navigating the Port St. Lucie river is heartbreaking. Call me an environmental terrorist, but I'm not the one discharging billions of gallons of polluted water. We just can't blame development runoff. It's not science...its common sense.

You need to read the updated comments from Dr. Tracy Fanara, who you quote in your article.

I don't blame Dr. Fanara for her reaction to U.S. Sugar. But please do not associate it with my story. I've made it plain that when red tide gets close to shore it can feed on as many as 12 different nutrients spilling off from the land and thereby intensify. I don't know what else I can say to make it clear. Nowhere have scientists studying red tide -- either during this presentation or in other studies I've seen -- blamed fertilizer from farms or any one source as the root cause of the dead animals/intensification. Rather, they blame coastal development, of which farming is only a part. As Dr. Lovko said twice during the hour -- read above -- "(Red tide) can use at least 12 sources of nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients, making bloom dynamics extremely complex and challenging to sort out."

Your journalistic integrity is non-existent because of your misleading and highly reactionary labeling of concerned citizens as “terrorists.” As a former journalist, I can say without a doubt that you are a “fake” and a charlatain. And, Sunshine State News must not be committed to publishing true news, and thus should be considered a public relations vehicle for whatever the agenda of its owners (one can guess a far-right agenda based on your biased “reporting”)

I did learn additional facts,but am still very disappointed in Nancy Smith. Calling those of us who put blame on Scott "ecoterrorists" is gas-lighting hyperbole,& contradictive to her other facts: 'run-off & pollutants make it worse.' In other words,Scott made the algae bloom worse. Question: Is there any effect from climate change (you know,the term Skeletor does not want spoken aloud in the Capital) & the warming of our waters?

No, warming water doesn’t cause red tide. If you read this & other research, you’d know it’s been around for over 100 years!

Yes rick scott you had nothing to do with it , Only cancelled governor crists plan to buy lands downstream from the cell pool aka lake o,which was devastated by farmers and their kin

Exactly. Not to mention all the other contributing damage done by his disdain for our land & water.

Welcome to Florida in 2018 where Democrats live their fairytale. Tra-la-la, tra-la-la. If only we had a Democrat governor we would have no red tide, no dead marine animals, no lake discharges, no blue-green algae. Life would be pleasant and pure and Florida would have no more pollution. O, tra-la-la, tra-la-la.

How many people did not read the entire report. Yea, I know red tide is a natural on going problem that occurs in the ocean, and can often come to shore, and cause a lot of different problems. I think the problem from people reading this article (it seems to me) is they want to blame someone for this. It looks to me from reading every word, and many, many other reports is that we have nature doing it's thing, and man not doing his. There are people, not just elected, but citizens of Fla. polluting the water everyday, in many ways. There is so much crap in the waters all around the world, and all we do, it seems is just let our conscience think it's o.k. Throw a piece of plastic in the water, and every kind of pollution man made, into the water and not expect it to grow out of control. People can't blame this only on government, because we as a world just don't seem to care about what harm we each cause to the planet we live on. I myself, had to learn how to pay attention to how I lived, and do all I can personally to try and help stop pollution of all kind. Not a perfect person talking, but one who is greatly aware of how we are destroying this planet so fast, and so few seem to want to believe it. We need good people on all levels to do something to stop pollution problems world wide. To sum it up from my point of view is the problem with pollution started getting really out of control from years past. I don't know anything about the people running this state, or much about science, but I am not stupid enough to blame this on a few people, but on all of us, and all of us voting for people who say there is no such problem in the waters of fla. connected to people. Forget how red tide is a natural occurance for second, and read the rest of the reports that suggest pollution by humans is making the whole matter worse. Can we save ouselves if all we do is blame others. The world is polluted and we should fix it, if we are not too late. Put the money there, or what difference does anything else matter. Stop fighting each other. Money in this country is going to the wrong places.

Exactly. It's like debating the cause of global warming while standing knee-deep in seawater. It's irrelevant what caused global warming, but it's a fact. Rising seawater levels continue while we debate whether or not it's man-made or natural - or just a "Chinese hoax" like the president claims. I'm not complaining: by the end of the next decade, I'll have beachfront property in what's now downtown Bradenton.


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nancy smith
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