Red tide’s impact goes beyond SWFL beaches

Reporter: Elizabeth Biro Writer: Paul Dolan
Published: Updated:

Red Tide is an ongoing problem Southwest Florida is experiencing and struggling with in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

While Red Tide does bring a lousy stench and dead fish along, the problem is bigger than merely that.

Captain Ozzie Fischer is a second-generation boat captain and has been showing people the way of the water for 27 years.

“By age 10, I pretty much knew I wanted to be a charter captain,” Fischer said.

“But the whole rest of my life, I’m 51, I lived on Sanibel Captiva,” Fischer said.

As he’s watched Southwest Florida grow he’s also watched the water change and decline.

“You don’t see near the things you you saw when I was a kid, the wildlife,” Fischer said. “It’s not just affect the fishing, it affects everything in southwest Florida from real estate to restaurants. It’s our whole livelihood.”

Anthony Farhat, a luxury home developer, sees it in his line of work too.

“Folks come down and are purchasing this luxury home, but they’re really purchasing the sunshine and water that are cascading around that luxury home without those other two things that the home is marketable,” Farhat said.

Add in a hurricane, and some Red Tide, and Sanibel mayor Holly Smith knows there are obstacles the area needs to overcome.

“When you’re hit with that type of a massive fish kill and red, red tide bloom, all of a sudden, you become much more aware of what you need to fight and how you need to fight,” mayor Smith said.

The not-for-profit Captains for Clean Water organized an open discussion set for Tuesday with co-founder Chris Wittman pushing for change and answers.

“When you have red tide present, and then we get months of these high-volume damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee, that the nutrients and pollution in in hot water from the lake is like adding fuel to a forest fire. It makes these blooms lasts much longer, longer duration, and much more toxic as far as their severity,” Wittman said.

But, similarly to how the polluted waters didn’t develop overnight, it can’t be fixed overnight either.

“We know that this is a marathon it’s not a sprint,” Wittman said.

And until Southwest Florida crosses the finish line, captains will keep the conversations going.

The Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of creating a new manual to address a water release schedule.

The EAA Reservoir, which is dubbed the crown jewel of the Everglades restoration, will be complete in 2030.

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