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Sarasota Bay Estuary Program Director: What a difference a year makes

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"Director's Note" from SBEP Director Dave Tomasko:

As we enter the July 4th weekend, I think it’s worth noting how much better off we are – both Tampa and Sarasota Bays – compared to last year. For those who might not remember – Tampa Bay in the summer of 2021 was suffering through the worst red tide (in Middle Tampa Bay) since the 1970s. For Sarasota Bay, our shorelines in Anna Maria Sound were littered with huge rafts of decomposing cyanobacteria mats, which peaked in June of 2021.

In Tampa Bay, about 1,800 TONS of dead fish were hauled out of the bay in 2021– likely amounting to around 100 million fish. Last year, I was interviewed by TV stations and newspapers multiple times by reporters wondering what in the world was going on, and whether our two bays would be able to recover. My neighbors – who know what I do for a living – were constantly stopping me and asking me when the stench from the bay would start to die down – when could they start to enjoy going out to Emerson Point again. When could they go out on their porches and not gag on the odor of dead fish and decomposing algae.

We are not yet out of the woods – we still have issues that need to be addressed, and we still have incidents that are adversely impacting the bay’s health. We still have boats leaving prop scars in our grass beds, people not picking up after their dogs, people blowing their yard waste into stormdrains, folks are still over-fertilizing their lawns, we have a large stretch of damaged mangroves that has recently come to our attention along the shoreline south of Longbar Pointe. We still have too much macroalgae in the upper Bay, and we still have yet to recover the 2,000 or so acres of seagrass lost between 2016 and 2020.

But what we don’t have so far this year is the years-long overflows of treated wastewater at the Bee Ridge WWTP in the lower Bay. The City of Bradenton is currently addressing the problems that resulted in treated and untreated wastewater overflows into the Manatee River. We don’t have discharges of Piney Point effluent into Lower Tampa Bay – which loaded 200 hundred million gallons of effluent with a nitrogen content more than 10 times higher than the worst performing WWTP in our watershed.