Low red tide concentrations offshore of SWFL on two year anniversary of epidemic

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:

It’s been two years since the beginning of the red tide epidemic along our coast that brought hardships to Southwest Florida, and there are now pockets of the bloom popping up along our shores.

There are background low concentrations of red tide offshore off Fort Myers Beach  and Naples Friday night.

Chris Davison, Island Inn vice president and general manager, has called the view offshore his office for a decade. He says the red tide of 2017 and 2018 was some of the worst he’s seen. And Island Inn was established in 1895, so it’s seen its fair share of hardship.

“Hurricane after hurricane, depressions, recessions,” Davison said. “And through all of that, this was the closest, you know, that we could say we’ve seen to it having, you know, real problems moving on forward.”

That red tide was troubling for several reasons, including the health of our ecosystem, human health and the economy.

“We lost a half a million dollars in cash flow,” Davison said.

Since then, the inn has adapted.

“If we do have an experience like we did last year, what will that do to us financially?” Davison said. “Let’s project that out and then that affects, you know, the cash that we have to spend on capital projects and making improvements on the property and whatnot.”

Southwest Florida red tide map as of Friday, Sept. 27. Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

We asked Dr. Mike Parson, FGCU professor and member of the governor’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force, about what makes this summer different from the past two years.

“One of the big differences is we haven’t had huge rainfall events,” Parsons said. “We haven’t had a Hurricane Irma. We haven’t had tropical disturbances like we saw in the Fall of 2017.”

With traces of red tide appearing along the Southwest Florida coast, efforts like the governor’s Red Tide Task Force and the Red Tide Mitigation and Innovative Technology Development initiative will go into effect. The goal is to be more prepared than ever.

We also spoke to a sea turtle technician at Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Marine Laboratory (SCCF), who said scientists hope to learn more about chronic effects of red tide, not just the effects observed during a bloom.

Because of different conditions, it makes it harder to study red tide, leaving some researchers with questions.

“How much are our nutrient-loading effects affecting the red tide?” Said Dr. Richard Bartleson, a research scientist with SCCF.

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