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New Pinellas County web page provides status updates for red tide

In a continuing effort to practice superior environmental stewardship and to provide information to the public, Pinellas County Environmental Management is providing daily status updates about Pinellas County’s red tide testing locations via Pinellas County’s red tide web page. The public can visit www.pinellascounty.org/environment/watershed/red-tide.htm to learn about red tide and to view the latest status reports for Pinellas County.

The current red tide status update for Pinellas County shows red tide concentrations ranging from not present and background to low levels.

County staff collect water samples on a routine basis to check water quality. With reports of red tide impacting surrounding counties, staff has increased collections and testing. The red tide status update reports are posted on the web page, and explain when sampling has taken place and detail the results.

The Pinellas County red tide web page also offers links to resources about red tide provided by the University of South Florida, NOAA, Mote Marine Laboratory, the Florida Department of Health and Florida Wildlife Commission.

Red tide is a naturally-occurring algal bloom that can be harmful to wildlife and individuals who come into contact with waters where red tide is present.

Now you can take your boater safety exam online

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FWC now allows online providers to offer boating safety exam

Access to Florida’s Boater Education Temporary Certificate Program has been expanded, thanks to work done by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to make allowances for online course providers to offer the required courses over the internet.

In August of 2017, the FWC amended Florida Administrative Code 68D-36.108 to allow the temporary certificate exam to be offered in an online version. This change makes it easier and more convenient for both vessel operators and vessel liveries to comply with Florida’s boater education laws, which require liveries to verify that customers born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, have met Florida’s boating safety education requirements before allowing them to rent their vessels.

Online temporary certificate exam providers will create a system that allows 24-hour, seven-day a week accessibility to the exam using tablets, laptops, or other electronic devices. This added convenience will make it easier for both visitors and residents by allowing them to take the test before a vacation to Florida.

Currently, one online boating safety education provider, Boat Ed, has completed the process to offer the exam online. Boat Ed has been a leader and innovator in boating safety education since 1995. Study or learning materials are available on the Boat Ed site to prepare students for the exam, improve their boating knowledge and increase their chances of successfully completing the exam on the first try. The exam costs $3 and study materials are available for an additional charge. A link to the exam can be found at Boat-Ed.com/FloridaRental/.

Prior to this change, paper exams were the only option and were required to be completed and passed by rental vessel operators. The ability for liveries to continue to offer paper exams has not changed with the addition of this online option. Liveries can still purchase and administer the paper exams, as long as their contract and insurance are valid.

The temporary certificate exam is a knowledge check, not a full education course. It cannot be converted into a boater safety identification card that is valid for life. Temporary certificates are not valid in any other state and do not meet boater safety education requirements in other states.

The online exam will be 25 questions, randomly selected from a large pool of questions. The cost for the exam will remain $3. Upon successful completion of the exam, students will be provided an electronic proof of their successful completion and their passing score. A livery will be able to inspect this proof to ensure that a prospective vessel renter has met Florida’s boating safety education requirements.

The new change offers various benefits to liveries:

  • Liveries are not required to contract with any other company to use the online exam.
  • A link that will send customers directly to the online exam can be provided by liveries.
  • Liveries are not required to continue purchasing paper exams from the FWC.
  • The burden of mailing paper tests back to the FWC is removed with the online option.
  • Liveries will be able to provide speedier service to customers who take the exam in advance of renting.

The FWC encourages liveries to transition to the new online exam system to increase accessibility and streamline the testing process for renters interested in enjoying Florida’s beautiful waterways by boat.

Nelson, Rubio call for passage of WRDA bill to address algae crisis

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio have called on Senate leaders to immediately take up and pass legislation aimed at helping mitigate the toxic algae blooms that are plaguing South Florida.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Nelson and Rubio urged the leaders to bring this year’s Water Resources Development Act – which includes funding for a massive reservoir project south of Lake Okeechobee designed to store and clean some of the water being released from the lake before it goes into the nearby waterways – to the Senate floor for a vote as soon as possible.

“The EAA Storage Reservoir is a critical piece of the puzzle for ending Lake Okeechobee discharges and the harmful algal blooms they help fuel,” the senators wrote. “We urge you to bring the WRDA bill to the Senate floor as soon as possible so that we can advance this key project.”

Nelson, who has been pushing his colleagues to approve the funding needed for the massive reservoir project known as the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), was able to get the project included in this year’s WRDA bill. Shortly after he and Rubio sent their letter to Senate leaders, Nelson took to the Senate floor to urge his colleagues to pass the bill as soon as possible.

“Right now, in Florida, we are facing a massive environmental and economic crisis,” Nelson said. “If we don’t act soon, I’m afraid there won’t be much of an environment in South Florida left to save. I urge the majority leader to schedule a vote on the WRDA bill as soon as possible, and I urge my colleagues to support the water resources bill when it comes to the floor of the Senate.”

Commercial fishers ‘wait and see’ on red tide impacts

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Plenty of dead fish washed ashore the first week of August due to red tide, but it didn’t kill commercial fishing in Cortez.

Karen Bell of A.P. Bell Fish Co., at an Aug. 6 Florida Institute of Saltwater Heritage meeting, said impacts had been minimal, but it was too early to tell if the toxic algal bloom would slow business.

Bell said red tide killed some inshore fish, predominantly baitfish and mullet, but offshore fishing — mostly grouper and snapper — remained unscathed as of Aug. 6. The biggest impacts on the industry were felt to the south, she added.

Bell said she received a call from a Georgia-based buyer looking for mullet who doesn’t normally buy from A.P. Bell, which indicated to her other fish houses were feeling the pinch.

It is, however, the slow season for mullet. Mullet fishing peaks in November and December, when the temperatures cool and the fish spawn.

She also said fishers were reporting they saw fish struggling to breathe at the water’s surface, indicative of red tide symptoms. The bloom attacks their central nervous systems.

“What it hasn’t killed, it ran out of the area as far as fish go,” said fisher Nathan Meschelle.

Meschelle said he went fishing Aug. 6, but after the day on the water produced a light haul, he shifted gears. He contacted Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore to ask if he could work cleaning up fish instead of catching them.

Meschelle said Whitmore contacted the island cities’ mayors and, Aug. 8-9, he worked alongside Anna Maria public works employees scooping rotting carcasses into his fishing skiff.

Florida Sea Grant’s Karl Havens on the causes of red tide

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What is causing Florida's algae crisis?

Editor’s note: Two large-scale algae outbreaks in Florida are killing fish and threatening public health. Along the southwest coast, one of the longest-lasting red tide outbreaks in the state’s history is affecting more than 100 miles of beaches. Meanwhile, blue-green algae blooms are occurring in estuaries on both coasts. Karl Havens, a University of Florida professor and director of the Florida Sea Grant Program, explains what’s driving this two-pronged disaster.

What’s the difference between red tide and blue-green algae?

Blue-green algae are called cyanobacteria. Some species of cyanobacteria occur in the ocean, but blooms — extremely high levels that create green surface scums of algae — happen mainly in lakes and rivers, where salinity is low.

Red tides are caused by a type of algae called a dinoflagellate, which also is ubiquitous in lakes, rivers, estuaries and the oceans. But the particular species that causes red tide blooms, which can make water look blood red, occur only in saltwater.

What causes these blooms?

Blooms occur where waters have high concentrations of nutrients — in particular, nitrogen and phosphorus. In Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, very high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus are washing into the water from agricultural lands, leaky septic systems and fertilizer runoff.

Red tides form offshore. When ocean currents carry a red tide to the shore it can intensify, especially where there are abundant nutrients to fuel algae growth. This year, after heavy spring rains and because of discharges of water from Lake Okeechobee, river runoff in southwest Florida brought a large amount of nutrients into near-shore waters of the Gulf of Mexico, which fueled the large red tide.

Report outlines Florida’s major environmental concerns

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Spoiler alert: Three of the six are about water

A coalition of environmental and other organizations is distributing a sternly worded report to all candidates in Florida for federal and state offices about worsening threats to the state’s natural resources.

On Wednesday, the alliance publicly released “Trouble in Paradise,” an initiative started by Nathaniel Pryor Reed, a conservationist and co-founder of 1,000 Friends of Florida who died recently.

“Tragically, he did not live to see this report to fruition,” Paul Owens, president of 1,000 Friends of Florida, said during a media conference.

To complete Reed’s final initiative, the 1,000 Friends organization partnered with Apalachicola Riverkeeper, Defenders of Wildlife, Florida Defenders of the Environment, Florida Springs Council, Florida Wildlife Corridor, Florida Wildlife Federation, the Howard T. Odom Florida Springs Institute and the League of Women Voters of Florida.

The result is a document intended to educate this state’s potential elected officials about what Owens calls “the greatest challenges facing Florida’s environment.”

Although the organizations are making sure paper or email editions of the report reach candidates in upcoming state and federal elections, Owens said they encourage voters to make sure contenders in local races are also aware of the findings and recommendations.

“These are critical issues at every level of government in Florida,” Owens said.

The study outlines six priorities that the partnership contends need urgent attention as well as specific geographic areas it considers especially endangered, including the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, the Indian River Lagoon, Apalachicola River and Bay and several natural springs.

Throughout the report, the authors call for enforcing environmental protections “already in place,” sufficiently funding agencies responsible for overseeing those duties, appointing “strong and effective” agency leaders and passing legislation “to restore and improve workable programs and address current and future challenges.”

SWFWMD to hold workshop on MFLs for Hillsborough County's Brant Lake

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) invites the public to a workshop on Thursday, Aug. 23 at 5:30 p.m. at the Lutz Community Center located at 98 1st Ave. NW in Lutz. The purpose of the workshop is to allow for public comment on the proposed minimum and guidance levels for Brant Lake in Hillsborough County.

During the workshop, District staff will present the technical basis for the proposed minimum levels for Brant Lake. Minimum levels are established to protect lakes and wetlands and the minimum level is the limit at which further water withdrawals will cause significant harm to the water resources and/or environment.

The workshop is an opportunity for local government, citizens, and others to provide input regarding the proposed minimum and guidance levels. Information will be summarized and made available to the District’s Governing Board. At the Board’s September meeting, Board members will choose whether to recommend adoption of the minimum levels into District rules. Governing Board meetings are open to the public, and brief oral comments are permitted on meeting agenda items.

The Florida Legislature requires the District to set minimum flows and levels (MFLs) for priority water bodies within the District. Minimum flows are established to protect streams and rivers from impacts associated with ground water and surface water withdrawals, while minimum levels are established to protect lakes and wetlands. Minimum flows and levels serve as guidelines for the District’s permitting programs and for development of water resource projects.

A draft report summarizing the proposed minimum levels for Brant Lake will be posted before the meeting on the District’s website at WaterMatters.org/MFLreports. For more information regarding the proposed minimum levels, please contact David Carr at 1-800-423-1476, ext. 4246.

Written comments can be submitted via mail or email to David Carr, Staff Environmental Scientist, Water Resources Bureau, at 2379 Broad Street, Brooksville, FL 34604 or david.carr@watermatters.org.

Manatee County looks to new solutions to clean impacts from red tide

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Visit www.mymanatee.org/redtide for updates and a list of fishermen offering services to homeowners

MANATEE COUNTY, FL (Aug. 14, 2018) – County Commissioners today discussed how the County can assist private homeowners clear waterways, inlets and canals of sea life killed by the red tide outbreak.

Manatee County does not have a marine fleet to remove fish in smaller canals, and waterways, nor can County crews go onto private property to haul dead sea life to the landfill. So County leaders aim to connect local fisherman willing to assist with the homeowners who need their canals cleared.

Beginning tomorrow Manatee County will make roll off dumpsters available at Bayfront Park on Anna Maria Island and at three County-owned boat ramps: Coquina North, Coquina South and Kingfish boat ramps. Private homeowners can either haul dead fish and debris from red tide without having to pay County landfill tipping fees or they may contract with local fishermen willing to do the work.

Fishermen who want to contract their services with local homeowners or homeowner associations, may provide their contact information to the County's Citizen Action Center at (941) 742-5800. The County will post those business names and numbers on the County's red tide website, www.mymanatee.org/redtide Private homeowners can check the site from time to time to get a current list of fishermen to do the job.

Commissioners and County staff also said they will work with state and federal leaders to obtain funding for other local impacts from this year's outbreak.

Department directors from the County's Property Management, Parks and Natural Resources and Public Safety departments all gave updates on the coordinated effort to keep public beaches and boat ramps clear of marine animals killed by red tide.

Those efforts include constant beach cleaning during daylight hours, relying on inmate labor from the Manatee and DeSoto sheriffs' offices and hiring temporary work to help the cleanup effort, said Charlie Bishop, Property Management Director.

The County is posting regular updates on the cleanup effort at www.mymanatee.org/redtide

Algae monitor sponsored by NASA installed in Lake Okeechobee

Satellite images tell us every few days how an algae bloom on Lake Okeechobee — the source of blooms in the St. Lucie River — has been growing and shrinking over the summer.

Now there's a device in the middle of the lake that will give us updates every hour.

On Thursday, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce installed a SeaPRISM on a platform in the middle of Lake Okeechobee.

The sensor developed by NASA can look into the lake every hour and, by the color of the water, determine how much blue-green algae it contains.

More:TCPalm's complete coverage of water issues

The idea is for real-time data from the SeaPRISM (Photometer Revision for Incident Surface Measurements) to be relayed to NASA and be available to researchers (and the public) on the agency's Aeronet website within a couple of hours.

The hourly data will help scientists figure out how algae blooms develop and why their size fluctuates from from week to week, month to month and year to year. That information will help them predict when algae will bloom in the lake, and that could help water managers prevent blooms in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

Mote Marine researchers racing against clock to study red tide

SARASOTA COUNTY - Researchers are racing against the clock to find solutions to this red tide crisis. For Dr. Tracy Fanara, the pressure has been relentless.

“I think that everybody feels a lot of pressure because this is a public health issue,” said Dr. Fanara.

She and her fellow researchers are in the thick of this crisis every day, and she constantly hears from people desperate for answers.

"It’s heartbreaking to hear how affected they are by this naturally occurring phenomenon and I want to find a way to protect them,” said Fanara.

It’s all hands on deck at Mote Marine Lab.

Scientists have been using interns, volunteers, even information from the public to respond to this crisis.

Researchers are employing a wide variety of tests. They're studying organisms that can eat red tide. Others are studying water treatment technologies, while fellow scientists are discovering how storms impact red tide.

They want to find out what's causing this algae bloom to intensify, and what kind of methods can stop it.

A hurricane may be only way to get rid of red tide, expert says

A major weather system could disperse and push the toxic bloom away from the shore.

SARASOTA — The invasion of toxic red tide on Southwest Florida beaches that has slaughtered marine life and sickened humans shows no signs of retreat anytime soon, experts say.

The killer menace, which has turned the emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico into a soft-drink brown hue and transformed pristine white sand beaches into ghastly graveyards of rotting sea turtles, manatees, dolphins and whale sharks in recent weeks, doesn’t look like it will loosen its grip on the area, scientists say. There is a “but” in the grim forecast, said Vincent Lovko, a staff scientist at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, an independent research institution in Sarasota that has studied Florida red tide for decades.

A major weather system — such as a hurricane — could potentially rid Southwest Florida of the persistent bloom, which began last October and killed an undetermined amount of marine life, while causing beachgoers to cough, sneeze and experience other respiratory or eye irritation. Sarasota County alone estimates it has removed more than 66 tons of decomposing fish from its beaches since Aug. 1, while the Town of Longboat Key estimates it has cleared 5.22 tons of decaying sea life from its shoreline.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports it has received complaints of respiratory irritation spanning from Manatee to Collier counties.

Red tide causes ‘thousands’ of fish kills on Manatee County’s coast

This past weekend, beachgoers on Anna Maria Island in Manatee County witnessed thousands of dead fish and other marine life wash ashore from red tide poisoning.

On Wednesday, there wasn't really evidence of the massive fish kill that happened on Holmes Beach just a few days before, but there was a lingering odor of dead fish.

And there were clues on the beach: scattered fish bits left after seagulls picked the carcasses apart. And yet, tourists like Carl Bear still walked the shoreline. He was there when red tide hit this area, and saw it all.

"It looked like blood was rolling up on the waves. We saw dead fish-- thousands-- can't count 'em." He said. "It's just so bad, and eels, and all kinds of different size of fishes."

Bear is from Pennsylvania and has been vacationing here every summer for the last eight years.

"This is the first year we ever had any trouble down here," he said.

Manatee officials have been keeping beaches on Anna Maria Island mostly clear of dead fish, but beachgoers were still coughing from the toxic red tide bloom on Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach on Wednesday, August 8.

Bear and his family avoided red tide that day by traveling north to Pinellas County's Fort De Soto, but at a resort just about a mile south, they're finding not all visitors are willing to stick around.

Cory Huffman manages the Bungalow Beach Resort. She said in the past 20 years that she’s worked there, they’ve maybe only had a cancellation or two due to red tide.

St. Pete City Council approves settlement in sewage spill lawsuit

Thursday afternoon [8/9/2018] at St. Petersburg City Hall, City Council voted to settle a lawsuit with the environmental organizations that sued the city in the wake of the city’s well-documented sewage crisis. The settlement will conclude a saga that began in 2015, when the city released up to one billion gallons of sewage – up to 200 million of which were dumped into Tampa Bay.

All City Council members in attendance voted unanimously to approve the settlement. Council members Charlie Gerdes, Ed Montanari, Darden Rice, Steve Kornell, Gina Driscoll and Lisa Wheeler-Bowman all voted to approve. Council members Brandi Gabbard and Amy Foster were absent.

Suncoast Waterkeeper, Our Children’s Earth Foundation and Ecological Rights Foundation sued the city in December 2016. No city employees faced criminal charges for their role in the sewage crisis.

According to the settlement, the city will donate $200,000 to the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and build a $7.5-million wet weather force main and lift station, among other things.

Attorney Doug Manson spoke extensively on behalf of Manson Bolves Donaldson Varn, the law firm representing the city in the lawsuit.

Manson explained that his firm and the environmental organizations had more commonality than they did differences, and they were able to meet the requests of the environmental organizations.

Another aspect of the settlement is adhering to the city’s Integrated Water Resources Master Plan, a holistic master plan for every kind of water use in the city. One component of that plan is the Sewer System Asset Management Plan (SSAMP), a plan that, according to Manson, shortens the timeframe within which the city must operate and maintain its publicly-owned treatment works.

Crab die-off in Hillsborough Bay could be red tide – or something else

TAMPA — Dozens of dead crabs were floating in Hillsborough Bay along Bayshore Boulevard on Sunday, centered near Bay to Bay Boulevard.

Though the die-off extended a few hundred feet in both directions, the cause is a mystery.

Until the bay’s water is tested, Red Tide can’t be ruled out as a possibility, said Robert Weisberg, a professor and oceanographer at the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science.

"For the last several days there have been high concentrations at the mouth of the Tampa Bay on the south side — Holmes Beach, Anna Maria Island," he said. Though Red Tide "could have been transported" to Hillsborough Bay, Weisberg said he had not seen any observations to confirm it.

Ryan Rindone, a biologist with the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, said he doubts Red Tide has made its way to Tampa Bay waters but advised residents to remain vigilant.

"The bay is a very large and complicated body of water," Rindone said. "Being that Red Tide is knocking on the door, people should be observant about what is going on. But a lot of things could have happened (with the crabs)."

One possibility, Weisberg said, is that "there is a lot of industry in that end of the bay."

Mote scientists to test new method to mitigate red tide

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Mote Marine Laboratory scientists will field-test a newly developed method for mitigating Florida red tide — elevated concentrations of toxic Karenia brevis algae — in the closed end of a canal in Boca Grande on Tuesday.

The method uses ozone to destroy the algae and its toxins inside a special system that releases no ozone into the environment and restores oxygen that is often deficient in Florida red tide areas, Mote said Thursday. The technology is designed for areas of limited size and tidal flow, such as dead-end canals and small embayments, where Florida red tide algae, their toxins, and resulting dead fish can accumulate.

The test is set for Tuesday morning and will be led by Mote Senior Scientist Richard Pierce.

Mote’s ozone treatment system was developed and patented, and is currently used, to remove Florida red tide cells and toxins from seawater entering Mote Aquarium and Mote’s animal hospitals on City Island in Sarasota.

Health advisories in place at three Hillsborough beaches for bacteria levels

TAMPA — There are health advisories is in place at Ben T Davis, Picnic Island and Simmonds Park beaches over a potential bacteria risk.

The Environmental Protection Agency said samples taken Wednesday were above the threshold for enterococci bacteria.

The advisory will be lifted when re-sampling shows the water is within satisfactory range. The EPA says they will re-sample Wednesday, August 15.

For more information, you can visit the Florida Department of Health's website for beach water quality.

Enterococci bacteria can usually found in the intestinal tracts of humans and animals, according to the health department. In high concentrations, it can cause human diseases, infections or rashes. It can be an indication of fecal pollution from stormwater runoff, pets, wildlife and human sewage.

Visit the Healthy Beaches website for updates.

SWFWMD performing prescribed burns in August and September in Manatee County

Setting prescribed fires in controlled settings can reduce the risk of wildfires burning out of control, as many Floridians witnessed during the state’s wildfire emergency last year. That’s why the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) will be conducting prescribed burns in August and September at the Edward W. Chance Reserve - Gilley Creek Tract (Gilley Creek) and Coker Prairie Tract in Manatee County.

Gilley Creek is located between State Road 62 and 64, east of County Road 675. Coker Prairie is located south of State Road 64. Both properties are southeast of Parrish. Approximately 200 acres will be burned in small, manageable units.

Some major benefits of prescribed fire include:

  • Reducing overgrown plants, which decreases the risk of catastrophic wildfires
  • Promoting the growth of new, diverse plants
  • Maintaining the character and condition of wildlife habitat
  • Maintaining access for public recreation
  • The District conducts prescribed fires on approximately 30,000 acres each year. Visit the link below to watch a video that explains why igniting prescribed burns now prepares lands for the next wildfire season.

South Tampa homeowners worry city construction project is polluting canals

TAMPA — Dr. Jenny Aregood bought a home on the Spring Lake canal for the view and the visitors.

This year she noticed a change in the water. Dr. Aregood says the spring-fed waterway went from clear to muddy on most days. And she says many of the manatees and birds left.

Down the street, Anne Nelson says she's pulled hundreds of pieces of trash out of the canal this year. Residents say the changes coincided with the start of a major stormwater construction project: part of the plan to alleviate South Tampa flooding issues.

Both Dr. Aregood and Nelson voiced their concerns to the city but say they were told there were no problems.

We obtained Florida Department of Environmental Protection records and found an April inspection uncovered potential deficiencies in the city-hired contractor’s stormwater pollution prevention plan. A re-inspection May 23 triggered a warning to the contractor.

City engineer Mike Chucran showed us the floating barriers designed to capture the mud and trash from the project. City officials blame the increase in debris in the water on all of the rain.

With the construction project complete, DEP now plans to test the water again to determine if the construction was the cause. Residents say they are all for progress but not at the cost of the environment.

Manatee County to use oysters in fight against red tide

MANATEE COUNTY – As red tide continues to ravage the region, Manatee County commissioners are enlisting some help to fight back. They're using oysters and clams.

The mollusks eat red tide and filter out the water.

Red tide is a toxic algae bloom that kills fish, causes respiratory problems and scares off beach goers.

This bloom has lasted for 10 months and no one knows when it will end.

"It’s just really upsetting when you see all the fish and the marine life just washed ashore,” said County Commissioner Robin DiSabatino.

“It’s horrific. What is going on in our waterways,” said commissioner Betsy Benac.

On Tuesday, the Manatee County Commission announced an expanded partnership with a nonprofit called "START," or Solutions To Avoid Red Tide.

The county is providing more than $2 million of BP oil spill money to place new oyster and clam beds in the waters in and around Manatee County.

"They live for 30 years, that's a long time to be working in the bay, and yes they do eat red tide and they are very unsusceptible to its effects,” said START chairman Sandy Gilbert.

This area used to be filled with oyster beds. Officials say back in the 1800s, the Manatee River was nicknamed "Oyster River." However, the massive oyster beds were eventually removed for food or as cheap fill to create roads.

City of Largo nailing down final $60 million piece of sewer system overhaul

LARGO — For more than a decade, several projects have been in the works to overhaul the city’s wastewater plant in an effort to cut down on sanitary sewer overflows, accommodate population growth, replace deteriorated infrastructure and make discharged waste cleaner and safer.

City officials say the last of those long and expensive projects is moving forward as staff work to finalize its design and secure a $60.2 million loan from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Engineering Services Director Jerald Woloszynski said the biological treatment improvements project, which will provide upgrades to the portion of the plant where bacteria and enzymes break down sewage, has two main goals.

The first is to improve the plant’s ability to remove nitrogen from the waste stream discharged into Old Tampa Bay via Feather Sound.

Nitrogen and phosphorus can lead to harmful and expensive health and environmental conditions, such as algae blooms and fish kills, so the city has been under a DEP administrative order since 2012 to come up with a way to reduce the amount it discharges.

"If there was ever a project that we do here at the city that benefits the environment, this is the project to highlight," Woloszynski said. "Basically, we’re committed to reducing the nitrogen going into Tampa Bay."

The second goal is to replace or rehabilitate aging components of the facility, raise or harden portions of the treatment system that are susceptible to flood damage and storm surge, and enhance safety features for personnel.

Woloszynski said the improvements will be the final piece in fully restoring the plant, because the city is wrapping up the $25 million headworks project, which includes a 5 million-gallon holding tank, and the disinfection and influent pumping project, which includes upgrades to the pumping system and aims to ensure treated effluent meets water quality standards.

Mote Marine Laboratory is working to solve red tide riddles

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Communities affected by the current Florida red tide are asking great questions — in particular, what more can be done to address this challenging harmful algal bloom (HAB) and better protect public health and quality of life?

Mote Marine Laboratory — an independent research institution that has studied Florida red tide for decades in cooperation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and numerous other partners — is working hard to answer that question with multiple scientific studies advancing this summer.

For months, several southwest Florida communities have been experiencing effects from elevated concentrations of the Florida red tide algae, Karenia brevis, which have persisted in the Gulf of Mexico since November 2017. Toxins from the bloom have caused large-scale fish kills, sickened or killed some large marine species and caused beachgoers to cough, sneeze and experience other respiratory or eye irritation, sometimes causing them to avoid the affected shoreline areas.

These impacts drive Mote scientists to find solutions. Mote is advancing innovative research with the ultimate goals of: improved rapid assessment and modeling for HAB forecasting; prevention, control and mitigation of HAB impacts; public health protection; and expansion of local community outreach and engagement.

Join Mote scientists for a web video chat on Florida red tide research and response efforts. Details will be available on Mote’s website Monday, Aug. 6, 2018. The web chat is tentatively expected to take place later in that week. Please check here for updates and registration: https://mote.org/pages/red-tide-web-forum-august-2018

Here is how Mote is addressing Florida red tide, from essential and extensive monitoring efforts to new mitigation and control studies launched within the past few years.

Lingering Red Tide bloom moves north, killing fish near mouth of Tampa Bay

ANNA MARIA ISLAND — A Red Tide algae bloom that has already been called the worst in a decade spread north over the weekend, reaching this Manatee County community near the mouth of Tampa Bay.

On Monday, clumps of dead fish floated amid the mangroves lining the approach to the Cortez Road bridge to Anna Maria Island, southeast of Egmont Key. Meanwhile at Holmes Beach, another community on Anna Maria, the police appealed via Facebook for volunteers to help them clean up the dead sea life that was washing ashore, offering to provide "masks, gloves and a trash grabber ... to anyone who would like to help."

No one knows for sure when, or if, the bloom will reach Pinellas County’s famous beaches. The latest forecast from University of South Florida scientists appears to show the bloom moving north over the next four days — but also shows it being pushed back out to sea by wind and currents.

A blue-green algae bloom that has been plaguing Lake Okeechobee and the rivers on either side of it has made national news and become an issue in the state’s political races. But in the meantime, a lingering Red Tide outbreak along about 120 miles of the gulf coast has also been taking a a growing toll on both the state’s environment and its tourism economy.

The Red Tide bloom began back in November, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute spokeswoman Michelle Kerr. By hitting the nine-month mark, it’s now the longest Red Tide outbreak in a decade, she said. The longest one on record lasted 17 months between 2004 and 2006, she said.

Check out this online tool to see how sea level-rise will impact your flood risk

Here’s a fun online gadget for a sobering task:

FloodIQ.com is a web site created by the nonprofit First Street Foundation to help users visualize how rising sea levels are expected to affect your risk of flooding — not only now, but up to 15 years in the future.

And, yes, it gets worse.

With FloodIQ.com, the First Street Foundation created an interactive map for Florida showing flood risks from both tidal flooding and a Category 1 and Category 3 hurricane this year, in 2023, 2028 and 2033. The data comes from the United States Geologic Survey and county governments, historic tide gauge readings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, storm surge predictions from the National Weather Service and NOAA, sea level rise predictions from the United States Army Corps Of Engineers and property details from state and county government offices.

The result is that it’s easy to find your home or business and see what you might expect — a foot of flooding? 2 feet? more? — in various combinations of bad storms, high tides and deteriorating conditions.

Enjoy.

Source: Tampa Bay Times.

Tampa Bay Estuary Program Mini-Grant webinar Aug. 22nd

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Do you have a great idea to protect and restore Tampa Bay? Now is your chance!

Bay Mini-Grants are a competitive awards program funded by sales of the Tampa Bay Estuary specialty license plate. Individual awards of up to $5,000 are available to community groups for projects that help to improve Tampa Bay.

This year, TBEP is also offering one additional award of up to $10,000 for a hands-on, waterfront habitat restoration project. Examples include shoreline plantings, installation of oyster domes, or the creation of a living shoreline. Project must involve community volunteers.

A free grant writing webinar will be offered on August 22, 2018 at 3:00 p.m. Please email Misty Cladas or call (727) 893-2765 for details and to sign up for the webinar.

The deadline to apply for a 2018-2019 TBEP Mini-Grant is Sept. 15th, 2018.

Find out what's new in the 2018-2019 Mini-Grants »

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program's Mini-Grant program is funded by sales of its specialty license plate "Tarpon Tag". Find out how to get yours here!

FEMA releases new preliminary flood maps

The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) recently announced the release of updated, digital flood hazard maps that show the extent to which areas throughout the county are at risk for flooding. The new preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) is based on updated coastal modeling and shows flood hazards more accurately than older maps.

The preliminary map is available to residents and businesses on the online Flood Map Information Service found at www.pinellascounty.org/flooding. Property owners in unincorporated Pinellas County can call the Flood Information Services hotline at (727) 464-8900 to ask questions and get answers about the new flood map. Property owners within municipal boundaries should call their city.

The newly released map is part of a large, multi-year coastal flood risk study effort to better identify, quantify and communicate the coastal flood hazards and associated risks in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina, producing updated FIRMs. This effort is being undertaken as part of the FEMA Risk Mapping, Assessment and Planning program.

For more information about flooding in Pinellas County and flood insurance, visit www.pinellascounty.org/flooding.

SWFWMD activates Tampa Bypass Canal System to prevent flooding

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) has activated the Tampa Bypass Canal system in response to heavy rains in the Tampa Bay area. Boat barriers were put in place where I-75 crosses the river, restricting navigation in that area.

The District has been in contact with Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation, the City of Tampa, Tampa Bay Water and the City of Temple Terrace to notify them of this action. As a result, Trout Creek Park and Nature’s Classroom, where the river water impounds, may be closed.

The Hillsborough River has reached an elevation of 25 feet above sea level, which triggers the Army Corps of Engineers activation level of the Lower Hillsborough Flood Detention (LHFDA) area. This involves stopping all or part of the flow of the Hillsborough River before it reaches the City of Temple Terrace and City or Tampa and impounding it in the LHFDA, which will assist with flooding from the Hillsborough River in cities of Temple Terrace and Tampa.

District staff stops the flow of the river by closing the S-155 structure. The S-155 structure is located north of Morris Bridge Road and east of I-75 and can be seen from I-75 as you cross the Hillsborough River.

The Tampa Bypass Canal system was constructed in response to massive flooding caused by Hurricane Donna in 1960. The system is designed to impound flood waters from the Hillsborough River into the 16,000-acre LHFDA. As the detention area fills with water from the River and the surrounding 450-square-mile watershed, the flows then enter the Tampa Bypass Canal and are safely diverted to McKay Bay, bypassing the cities of Temple Terrace and Tampa.

The system is made up of five flood control structures located along the 15.7-mile canal. In addition to providing flood control, the Tampa Bypass Canal also serves as a water supply source to help meet the drinking water needs of the Tampa Bay area.

Longboat Key to prepare sea level rise action plan

Longboat Key has hired consultants to assist the town in preparing for the potential effects of sea level rise.

Town staff have been working with consultants from Aptim Environmental & Infrastructure Inc. since July 9 to assess the town’s infrastructure in the first step of a four-phase process that town leaders hope will lead to a series of steps to prepare the island.

“The ideal outcome would be realistic, reasonable and implementable adaptation strategies that make sense for the town, based on a practical projection of sea level rise,” said Isaac Brownman, public works director.

Longboat isn’t the only one making such preparations. The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council has formed the Tampa Bay Resiliency Coalition to address sea level rise in the region in a similar way, and Manatee County is a partner.

Sea levels rise an average of one-eighth of an inch per year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The idea to look a bit deeper at how sea level rise will affect the town originated from many sources, Brownman said, including Town Commission meetings, conversations with the public and comments from now-retired staff members.