Florida gets ‘D’ in protecting beaches from coastal erosion, climate change

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Red tide brings dead marine life on Florida beaches. Photo via WINK News.
Red tide brings dead marine life on Florida beaches. Photo via WINK News.

Florida thrives on beach tourism, which generates $55 billion a year in sales. But, a nationwide report from the non-profit, Surfrider Foundation, gave Florida a ‘D’ rating when it comes to protecting beaches from coastal erosion and climate change.

Florida section of the Surfrider Foundation annual report. Photo via WINK News.
Florida section of the Surfrider Foundation annual report. Photo via WINK News.

The biggest impediment to our environmental problem in SWFL is red tide. It is currently creeping back towards Collier County beaches after a brief interlude. But, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent executive order aims to keep gulf coast beaches looking beautiful.

The order allocates $2.5 billion over the upcoming four years to protect the Everglades and our water. DeSantis is also looking for a “clean start” after asking the South Florida Water Management Board to resign.

One beach owner said the extent of this past year might have been the wake-up call SWFL needed to spark change.

“It’s something that sits off of our coast all the time,” said Dan Andre, who works at the Mango Street Inn. “I believe that everything we’re doing is sort of destroying the environment to some degree.”

For people exposed to red tide at beaches, they may feel varying degrees of eye, nose and throat irritation, according to Lee Health. But the mostly temporary symptoms will subside once the person leaves the area.

In SWFL areas where red tide is seen, whether or not the conditions will be present at the beach depends upon the direction the wind is blowing. If the wind is blowing onshore, the winds may bring red tide particles to beachgoers. However, if the winds move offshore, then the toxins will be pushed towards the Gulf of Mexico.

But, the winds can only do so much as the severity of red tide may be increased by people. Florida Gulf Coast University researchers found that people may be responsible for the low-grade Florida received from the Surf Rider Foundation.  FGCU Professor Bill Mitsch, along with researchers, collected red tide sample months ago.

MORE: Read the Surfrider Foundation State of the Beach Report Card 2018

The team set out to find if the releases from Lake Okeechobee were causing the red tide blooms to intensify. Mitsch said there is not enough evidence to blame the discharges, but because the study was small, there is also not enough evidence to rule them out.

What they found is a connection with red tide concentrations and nitrate in the air, which gives rise to a new theory — one Mitsch said points to one particular heavily travel route.

“Where I-75 is closer to the coastline sort of hugs the coast all the way over to where?” Mitsch said. “South Lee County, North Collier where it hangs the left and goes across the Everglades. That stretch is exactly where the red tide was this year.”

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