Red Tide, The Bloom- Are we to Blame?

By Janet K. Brennan

I love the beach. I can sit for hours on any given day and watch the rise and fall of the beautiful water and never get bored. The sights and scent of salt water and sun is an exotic martini for me. One that soothes my soul into a relaxation akin to deep meditation, that even Jon Kabat- Zinn could not compete with, mantra or no mantra

This past September I visited one of my favorite spots in the world, Siesta Key, Florida. Named for its crescent shape and laid-back lifestyle, the Seminoles were the first to inhabit this gorgeous, sub tropical paradise and subsequently it was colonized by the Spaniards.

When I first visited this area some twenty five years ago, Crescent Beach, touted as number fifteen on the list of most beautiful beaches in the world, had few condos, lush palm trees on its beach for shade and sparkling clean water. Swimming was an adventure it itself and if one were to drop a penny to the bottom of the gulf at a five foot depth and deeper, the penny would be visible even to the oldest pair of eyes. Immaculate beaches abounded with spectacular white crystal sand that was originally formed thousands of years ago when quartz sand eroded and washed down rivers from the Appalachian Mountains.. A sand dune today was perhaps once, thousands of years ago, a mountain top near the Georgia-South Carolina border. Swept into the Gulf of Mexico, powerful currents pushed the quartz sand westward. Currents gradually built long, thin ridges of sediment on the shallow sea floor. Sand continued to deposit, the ridges grew higher and eventually islands were created.

As each year passed, I began to notice subtle changes in the area that were more than a bit disconcerting. The beach was eroding at an astoundingly fast rate, and more and more dead fish were being washed up onto the shore. There were days that it was not as pleasant to spend six hours lolling in the sun due to a strange tickle in the back of my throat which often progressed to a cough

Now, back to September, 2006 The day was a gorgeous, Florida blue-sky day, With sand-chair tucked under my arm, and beach bag hanging off my shoulder, I headed to Crescent Beach.. As soon as I stepped out of my car, the stench permeated my senses almost gagging me. Refusing to be undaunted and my heart set upon a beach day, I simple ignored what I could. Setting myself down on the crystallized sand near the shore. I pretended not to notice the myriad of dead fish surrounding me. A thick, reddish sea weed seemed to be everywhere. I tried to plant my feet in the warm sand, but only succeeded in prying up undercover bloom from beneath the sand. Wandering into the water, I soon realized that The Bloom, better known as Red-Tide had settled in for the long haul. Holding one of my hands under the water at a depth of a few inches, I was horrified to discover it had completely disappeared.

What exactly is red tide? It is a red discoloration of surface water caused by very high concentrations of plankton (dinoflagellata) The poison produced by the algae results in a massive number of fish and marine mammal deaths and illnesses. The decomposition of algae at the end of the cycle to the water of huge amounts of oxygen

What causes it? Many experts feel that it is caused by increased [pollution and runoff from the land during the past few decades. This increased nutrients from land run-off is having a devastating effect.

On Gasparilla Island, another one of my own favorite haunts and only a few miles down the coast from Siesta Key, three dogs were reported to have developed severe respiratory illnesses and had to be treated. Only one dog survived. Red tide is affecting the beautiful birds in the sanctuaries of the area as well as the shell fish. Humans can become ill after shell fish

This entire area was once a mecca for fishing and marine life as well as wild life viewing. Sea Turtle which once abounded are now rarely seen.

“The good news is that recovery is possible. In 1971 Red Tide created oxygen-starved zones similar to those observed this year. That year, scientists also documented mass deaths of marine life and coral reef inhabitants in roughly the same area as this year's zones. There does seem to be a slight improvement as we become more aware of the problem and are making our government aware of the dire situation of our seas. But, is total recovery even possible? One is reminded of the biblical passage of the end times when the “Seas shall turn as blood”. Most experts agree that recovery can happen but that the damage has been so extensive. It will take years and major cooperation between man and elements.

In the meantime, I will continue my sojourns to the beach at Siesta Key. I am a die-hard, and perhaps that is not the politically correct way to describe myself, these days.

C’mon guys and gals, we have only one beautiful planet. As far as we know, it is the only one that sustains life. The writing is on the wall if something is not done quickly.

We will all become die-hards in the end

copyright 2007, Janet K. Brennan

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