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Red tide and you is a great place to START

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If you are not familiar with the local nonprofit Solutions to Avoid Red Tide, you should be. It is doing yeoman’s work to reduce the scourge of red tide in our community.

I’ve seen its public presentations a couple times and spoken with its staff. It has a terrific presentation called Red Tide and You (hence my title for this column) that gives the average Gulf Coast resident a much more basic understanding of what is Red Tide; why it happens; and what our community and we as individuals can do about it. 

If you belong to a local organization that needs speakers, you should reach out to get a speaker from START to give this presentation ( 

Red tide lives in the Gulf of Mexico. It doesn’t affect coastal sea life, coastal residents, tourists and our economy unless there is a “bloom.” A bloom is an explosive growth in red tide organisms that kill ocean life and turn our beaches into horror shows and tear-gas coastal neighborhoods. They come from inordinately large sources of nutrients in the form of nitrogen and phosphorus. 

To draw a straight line: Whenever we humans on land create large flows of nitrogen and phosphorus into our waters, which all flow into the ocean, we feed blooms of red tide, which in turn kill sea life, reduce our quality of life and drive away tourists to the detriment of the local economy.

Obviously, it is good for the environment and in our own interest to reduce those flows of nutrients into the water wherever we can. 

Sarasota Bay is particularly vulnerable to red tide blooms because of its salinity. And that is because it does not have a major fresh water river flowing into it, and there is a lot of movement of water between the Gulf and the bay that makes it easy for red tide blooms to enter.

What START does

Which is where START comes in. Consider a few examples of how it’s working to reduce the flows of nutrients into our waters: 

START works with the Legislature to deal with polluted Lake Okeechobee releases; fund major water quality infrastructure projects; and fund clam and oyster seeding projects on the Gulf Coast. 

START itself works with clam and oyster seeding programs in the Sarasota area. These shellfish are amazing filters, each oyster, for example filters nine-20 gallons of water per day, pulling nitrogen and phosphorus out of the water and turning it into shells so the nutrients cannot go out and feed red tide. Particularly impressive is START’s project to improve the vast numbers of stormwater ponds in Sarasota County. Stormwater currently accounts for about 65% of the nitrogen that flows into Sarasota Bay. 

A huge amount of that water flows through stormwater ponds — you know those scenic little lakes that dot every neighborhood and development in the region. Ninety-five percent of stormwater ponds are on private property. They are a necessary byproduct of development in the area, providing a means to collect and control stormwater before it flows into creeks and ultimately into the Gulf of Mexico.

The problem is most of these ponds are impaired. As a result, they pass tons of nitrogen and other nutrients into Sarasota Bay. 

To provide filtering of those nutrients and help prevent red tide blooms, these ponds need to have an unmowed strip about 3 feet wide around them and allow natural water plants to grow in them. 

START points to one stormwater pond improvement project that reduced phosphorus 26% and nitrogen 23%.

What you can do

Besides helping to arrange for START to present all of its useful information to your group, there is a lot you can do.

First, if your neighborhood or development has stormwater ponds, get START and your governing body together to figure out the simple steps to insure they are pulling as many nutrients as possible out of the stormwater flows into the Gulf. 

Use less fertilizer (which is loaded with nitrogen and phosphorus). Don’t use it in the rainy season; water less right after you apply fertilizer; and don’t fertilize within 10 feet of a pond or stream.

Clean up pet waste, tree leaves and grass clippings, all of which are also loaded with nutrients if they get into the water. 

Arrange your rain gutters and downspouts so the water that flows out of them can flow onto a permeable surface and soak in, rather that washing nutrients into the ponds and streams.

Don’t pour greases and sauces down your sink or flush items other than waste and toilet paper down the toilet. All of that creates nutrients in the sewage system and must be filtered out and makes the system less efficient, increasing nutrient flows into the waters. 

Taken together, these actions can dramatically reduce red tide blooms, save our sea life and keep our beaches lovely and fun.



Adrian Moore

Adrian Moore is vice president of the Reason Foundation and a regular contributor to the Observer. He lives in Sarasota.

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