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Pine Island residents dealing with red tide and blue-green algae

August 8, 2018
By ED FRANKS ( , Pine Island Eagle

With red tide coming from the north and blue-green algae coming from the south, Pine Island has begun suffering the same fate as other barrier islands and areas.

Over the last several months, Southwest Florida has seen a record amount of dead sealife. In mid-July, a dead whale shark washed up on a Sanibel beach, which most likely died due to red tide poisoning and last week, while the Army Corps of Engineers met with residents at the Cape Coral Yacht Club, a dead manatee was in the boat ramp 100 yards away.

Red tide (Karenia brevis) is a type of algae that occurs along the Gulf Coast every summer and fall. Once the algae "blooms," it releases toxins harmful to marine life and humans. Fish, shellfish, dolphins, manatees, birds and other marine life are dying along Southwest Florida beaches.

Article Photos

Jim Roach took this photograph of dead fish last week in the Henley Canal on Pine Island.

The symptoms humans face from breathing red tide toxins produce coughing, sneezing and tearing and burning eyes.

Heather Schwarz, owner of Olde Florida Outpost in St. James City, had scheduled a St. James Golf Cart Parade for Saturday but had to cancel the event.

"I called it off because of the smell and health issues," Swartz said. "A couple of people who always participate decided to leave the island because of the red tide and the smell of dead fish - I think a lot of people have done that. There are also a lot of people who don't want to participate and cancelled because of health reasons."

Schwarz did notice that business began to slow down about two months ago. According to Florida Fish and Wildlife, red tide indicators began to rise in Lee County in late June.

"Last week we had company at our house and decided to go out on the boat," Schwarz said. "The red tide was so strong I couldn't speak for a week because of all the coughing. Also, we don't know what these repeated exposures will mean for people's health in the long term."

Local real estate broker Jay Johnson has been coming to Pine Island since 1950 and living on the island since 1990.

"This is the worst red tide I've ever seen here," Johnson said. "I live on the water at the southern end of the island and haven't seen green algae but I began seeing and smelling dead fish several weeks ago. This week I couldn't go outside my house without covering my face with a wet washcloth."

The week before, Johnson and friends went to Captiva Island.

"We couldn't stand it, everybody was coughing and sick and we came back," Johnson said. "I've scheduled a doctors appointment because of the breathing issues."

Johnson has decided not to show any houses until this is resolved.

"It's pointless because of the red tide and the smell," Johnson said. "You show someone a house and you never see them again. This is going to have a major impact on every business here."

Jim Roach is a consultant to the Greater Pine Island Chamber of Commerce and has been involved in water quality issues for many years. Roach lives in Cape Coral.

"Last week my wife and I came out to see how bad it is on Pine Island," Roach said. "The photo I provided was taken at Waterfront Restaurant in St. James City."

Roach said he understands the dead fish from the red tide but says what's making the situation worse is the combination of red tide and green algae.

"The water coming out of Lake Okeechobee is 10 times too dirty to send south but they send it any way," Roach said. "This is a legislative issue that could be solved. The big concern is we don't know how bad its going to get."

St. James City resident Jim Wright moved here to enjoy the waters and frequently rows around the Picnic Island area.

"I often row from St. James City out around Picnic Island and Sisters Island and then back early in the morning," Wright said. "Sunrise on San Carlos Bay is a wonderful way to start the day. Recently I started encountering dead fish and blue green algae in ever increasing numbers and the smell in some areas is also disturbing. Today (Thursday, AUg. 2) was the worst. The fish shown in my photo is about 70 pounds and is one of two that I found washed up on Picnic Island. Tragic is the only word I have to describe what is happening here."

Roger Wood, former president of Greater Pine Island Civic Association, wrote a letter to the editor this week stating "...this is a Florida Political problem. I'm not here to tell you to vote for one Party or the other. Do a little research as to which candidate will enact clean water regulations and fund the enforcement. When in doubt, do not vote to elect or reelect the Florida candidate that was in office for the last eight years."

Capt. Cathy Eagle has been in the Southwest Florida for more than 40 years.

"I've never seen so many dead fish," Eagle said. "It's been absolutely awful for several months now and people are canceling tours. I take people out to Cabbage Key, Boca Grand and they're complaining of headaches, burning eyes, coughing and no one knows if these exposures cause long term health problems."

"The only thing that will take this away is a strong tropical storm or a category 1 hurricane. Otherwise this is going to be a very long-term problem."

The Florida Department of Education declared 2018 the worst algae bloom in a decade and on July 9, Gov. Rick Scott issued an Emergency Order in Glades, Hendry, Lee, Martin, Okeechobee, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties allowing the various departments to waive restrictions and regulations to combat the problem. Last week Scott directed the FDEP to give Lee County $700,000 to clean up algae from local waters.

Capt. Bill Russell has been living on Matlacha and Pine Island his entire life. In this week's "On the Water" column, which the Eagle features weekly, he states, "I have learned over the years that mother nature has a remarkable knack for healing herself if given the chance. She needs our help, we created this mess and it's up to us to correct it. If we all do our part and get involved, get educated on the facts, stop pointing fingers and become one voice we can make a difference.

"I'm not sure yet what the long-term effect will be but it has affected businesses already," Russell said. "I know of many charter captains that have cancelled, or had their clients cancel, due to the conditions. Many visitors are canceling or changing their summer plans to visit our area. If this continues it will affect restaurants, motels, VRBO's, commercial fishing and charter boats, and just about the whole marine industry in general."



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