Florida has been dragged through the mud this year. We’ve been knocked down, beat up, broadcasted, examined, tested, regulated, and straight up disaster-ed to death. But we’re not dead yet.
We’ve had to change our own plans, avoiding certain coasts or staying off the water altogether. No Boca Grande for 4th of July. Bait dying in your livewell. Trading in that waterfront tiki bar for an inland establishment to avoid the stench of death and toxic algae. It’s become standard practice to consider the water quality before making plans to go anywhere.
I’m no scientist and this isn’t a write-up on the intricacies of what, why and how we have certain environmental problems. This isn’t a deep-digging editorial about solutions to our state’s water crisis. This is a simple, heartfelt reminder of what is happening in Florida and how we can help our neighbors until things improve.
Florida Gets Beat Up | A Year in Review
In September 2017, Hurricane Irma wrecked her way up the state leveling the middle Keys, drop-kicking Collier County in the face, and leaving a trail of storm surges, tornadoes and damage across the entire state. The national media had the rest of the country believing that Florida was about to be wiped off the map, helping drive near-apocalyptic panic statewide.
One month later, a red tide bloom emerged from the depths of hell where it came from. As it staked its claim on the Southwest coast, we’ve watched our coastal estuaries die before our eyes and every species of marine life wash up on our shores - from baitfish to game fish - tarpon, snook, manatees, sea turtles, dolphins, even a whale shark.
Meanwhile, those who might have typically vacationed in Florida throughout the winter and spring months were spooked by the news of hurricanes and toxic red tide. So they never showed up.
Just as we entered 7 months of red tide devastation, rainy season hit.
May and June 2018 brought nearly a foot of rainfall. As we’ve come to expect across greater Florida, when it rains a lot, Lake Okeechobee levels rise and the Army Corps of Engineers begins discharging the water to the coasts. Billions of gallons of polluted, nutrient-laden freshwater is dumped to the east and west through the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rvers and, sadly, we’ve become accustomed to what happens next.
Destruction of our coastal estuaries, seagrass dieoffs, marine life kills, and toxic blue-green algae blooms.
We just hit the one year mark since Irma, nearly a year (and counting) of red tide and an entire summer of toxic algae plaguing our coasts. Add national news coverage and an election year on top of that and the Sunshine State is one unattractive hot mess.
What Does This Mean?
Florida’s water drives our economy. Our seasonal visitors don’t show up for the winter humidity and terrible traffic. They come for the water, the sunsets and an escape from their snowy asylums.
Tourism has taken a massive hit. Some businesses have reported as much as a 50% drop in sales versus year prior. And it’s not just the coast that’s feeling the impact. People aren’t wanting to come here at all which means we lose the visitors and the money they would be spending throughout the state. As our peak season approaches, it’s not IF there will be a decline, it’s how bad will it be?
How To Help
We may not be able to fix our water problems overnight or will the red tide away, but we can help our fellow Floridians by showing up when the tourists aren’t. Shop at local stores, eat at local restaurants, drink at local breweries, book a trip with a fishing guide, get your coffee at the mom and pop shop instead of Starbucks.
I’m not saying to sacrifice your health by ingesting toxic fumes. Not all areas are affected at all times. Do your research, be mindful of the needs of your community and help if you can.
Florida will bounce back. We may be battered, bruised and toxic, but the tides will change. They always do.