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Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 11, 2019 8 months ago

Community takes action against red tide

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From educators to local environmental groups, who in the community has actively sought to research or make an impact on red tide?
by: Samantha Chaney Staff Writer

Hands Along the Water

Hands Along the Water is a volunteer-driven group based in Sarasota whose mission is to protect water and marine life by involving the community in education and activism.

The organization first formed when community leaders decided to coordinate a statewide demonstration on red tide on Aug. 12, 2018. From there, it’s gained traction and since branched out into seven coastal counties, from Pinellas to Collier.

Primarily, the members of Hands Along the Water have focused on organizing local activities such as beach cleanups, shoreline restoration projects and hosting educational seminars.

Locally, they are best known for holding peaceful demonstrations.

But in addressing the human element of red tide, Director Samantha Gentrup says they have made an impact by getting community members involved.

“We’ve had members speaking at city council and county commission meetings, and that’s the first time they’ve ever done that before,” Gentrup explained. “They had no idea that they could go and speak, so we guide them through the process — we provide them with talking points — and people are becoming more involved.”

Specifically, Hands Along the Water has appeared at North Port, Venice and Sarasota commission meetings. Additionally, members have spoken at Sarasota County Commission meetings to continue raising awareness about water quality.

“We had a demonstration back in December because that topic had kind of been dropped when the snowbirds and everybody was coming back,” Gentrup said. “It got swept under the rug … Red tide is naturally occurring, but we are absolutely feeding the red tide with our human behavior.”

According to Gentrup, Hands Along the Water is also working on a program that encourages people to stop using lawn fertilizers, which can contribute to nitrogen pollution that exacerbates red tide.

— Samantha Chaney

Longboat Revitalization Task Force 

This group that has advocated for a wide range of issues on Longboat Key has, since late last year, pushed for singular leadership in the coordination of the fight against red tide.

Earlier this year, the group wrote a letter to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, urging it to lead the way, much the way it did in the fight to clean up Chesapeake Bay in 2010.

Tom Freiwald, chairman of the task force, sent the letter in late January to the federal agency’s Atlanta office in the hopes of getting governmental assistance in fighting the algal bloom.

“I am a little concerned that people think red tide is gone and turned their attention elsewhere,” said Freiwald who teamed with fellow task force member Lenny Landau to study Karenia brevis and its local effects.

— Eric Garwood

Solutions To Avoid Red Tide

Formed by former Longboat Key Mayor Jim Patterson, Solutions To Avoid Red Tide, or START, first emerged following a particularly devastating red tide bloom in 1995.

Sandy Gilbert, Chairman and CEO of START.

Initially, the group aimed to educate the public about the harmful algal toxins found out in the Gulf of Mexico. Over time, however, it decided to become more proactive.

“We basically used to really raise money for research and we were working on educating people,” said Sandy Gilbert, chairman and CEO of START. “And then, about three years ago, we started to evolve into doing actual programs. Things in the water — not just presentations and not just talking, not just putting out brochures — but doing something that actually changed the nature of the water.”

Members designed the Gulf Coast Oyster Recycle and Renewal Program, which combined the efforts of the Chiles Restaurant Group restaurants, the Manatee County Department of Natural Resources, the Gulf Shellfish Institute and the University of Florida Sea Grant Program.

GCOORP effectively helped to plant new oyster reefs in Sarasota Bay, which help to naturally filter the water, It has also kept approximately 30 tons of oyster shells out of landfills in 2018. 

“Our estimated tonnage for this year will over 80 tons of shell that will not go in the garbage,” he said. “And it will go into spots along either Manatee River or in Robinson or Perico Preserve.”

Similarly, START helped to fund other programs such as the Sarasota Bay Watch, whose clam seeding program helps to naturally filter water.

This year, members plan to further expand projects that reduce the nutrients in Sarasota Bay. 

— Samantha Chaney

Other groups

Sarasota Bay Watch and volunteers released 30,000 clams into the Bay on June 16.

Sarasota Bay Watch: Sarasota Bay Watch aims to get the community engaged and to be better stewards of Sarasota Bay. Its volunteers plant scallops and clams in the bay to help improve water quality and promote seagrass growth.

University of South Florida: USF’s College of Marine Science teamed up with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for The Collaboration for Prediction of Red Tides, which generates a 3D model that predicts and tracks red tides within coastal waters.

New College of Florida: Funded by  $17,000 from Mote Scientific Foundation, in November 2018, New College researchers and students have worked to track the animals who survived red tide — such as sharks and stingrays — and find out where they go.

Sarasota Bay Estuary Program: Following the algal bloom in the fall, the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program has placed a stronger emphasis on reducing nitrogen pollution in stormwater runoff. It has also teamed up with other Florida-based estuary programs to start a campaign aimed at community education on how “we’re all in this together” when it comes to red tide.

Mark Alderson, the executive director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.

The Suncoast Waterkeeper: The Suncoast Waterkeeper is one of 14 waterkeepers in the state of Florida. As such, it advocates for improved water quality and regulation, helping to curb the manmade influences of red tide.

Jon Thaxton: Thaxton’s work in red tide and nutrient runoff goes back 35 years. Currently, through his position with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, he has put together a group of experts in nutrients, stormwater, engineering and more to create a “playbook” on how the community and local government can set a higher standard for nutrient management.

Ed Chiles: The CEO of the Chiles Restaurant Group, Chiles is a board member of START and has teamed up with GCOORP to provide oyster shells to plant new reefs in bodies of water located in both Sarasota and Manatee counties.

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