Group: Super Administrators
Joined: Jan. 2004
||Posted: Feb. 06 2007,11:14
Sue Sea and I just returned from our getaway Paradise in Paradise, namely Sanibel Island. For those who may not know, Sanibel is a lovely larger island, connected to Captiva and accessible by bridge. The environment is well preserved, gross commercial development almost completely excluded. Little meandering two lane road, miles of beaches, santuaries, Ding Darling Park, great fishing, kayaking, bike paths everywhere, art studios and the like. An upscale retreat that ordinary people can access.
This may have changed!
A few years ago runoff from the sugar and agricultural interests, hurricane-related releases and a bit of sewage caused a number of outbreaks of red drift algae.
What is it and why does it happen?
Red drift algae is a form of reddish seaweed that, like sea grass, grows in beds and is found not far from shore. The weed is easily dislodged and carried to nearby shores, ie Sanibel.
From the Stokes Birding Blog:
In the last few years, the hurricanes (more numerous because of global warming?) have dumped excessive water on FL. That water goes into Lake Okeechobee and, in order not to have the lake flood, much of that is released by the South Florida Water Management District and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers down the Caloosahatchee River to Sanibel Island’s surrounding waters. Trouble is, the polluted fresh water from the lake contains heavy nutrients, like nitrogen and phosporous, that contribute to excessive algae blooms and also dense sediments that hurt sea grass growth. The releases of this polluted water can kill oyster and clam beds, severely impact the marine environment and its wildlife, and hurt the toursim industry.
It was thought the algae was a temporary event, related to Big Sugar and the hurricanes of that time. But it now appears the algae has taken a foothold and crowded out the normal, more typical species.
This is not good.
What effects will Red Drift Algae have?
As noted it will crowd out native and normal sea grasses and weeds.
Quoting Ding Darling:
"During the growing season, it grows incredibly fast," refuge manager Rob Jess said. "It has established itself, so it takes less nutrients. We've seen our seagrass beds decline by half in the past two years. The fishing is down. The mullet aren't here. The wilderness area has been tremendously devastated."
This affects both local birds and fish as well:
Ralph Woodring, 70, who was born on Sanibel, said it's bad.
"Nobody's catching any fish at all," Woodring said. "We had a little bait: Some glass minnows came in and stayed a couple of days and then left. We had a run of mullet a few weeks ago, but they left. There ain't any birds because there's nothing for them to eat. "We have a lot of shrimp and crabs, because there's nothing to eat them. Everything else is in #### short supply."
Woodring said the bay is crawling with an unusually large number of sea hares — shell-less mollusks that eat drift algae. Water in the bay should be murky, Woodring said, but it's been surface-to-bottom clear for months, which is a problem: Drift algae need sunlight, and they get plenty of it in clear water.
Sanibel is a MAJOR tourist destination and it goes without saying that mounds of rotting and VERY smelly vegetation have been widely reported and has led to a crisis in managing this problem.
So what can/is being done about it?
The tourist interest just want it removed, with heavy equipment if necessary. But a one-time clean up of Sanibel beaches is estimated to cost the small community around $1.5 million! Clean it up, and two days later - yup - more piles.
And there is a real conflict with environmental interests. So far the city will only allow tedious hand raking, drying and careful disposal during specific times only - as this is the only way to prevent significant damage to the beaches, birds and other reproducing wildlife (for which Sanibel is famous)
Today, Sanibel City Council authorized the cleanup of algae by property owners along their beaches, with an approved Beach Cleanup Permit. Raking of algae must be done exclusively by the use of hand tools such as rakes, shovels, or similar tools, and wheelbarrows. Algae must be air-dried and bagged separately for final disposal. Algae may not be co-mingled with other vegetation or household trash. Bagged, dried, algae should be placed roadside for pickup by Waste Pro
This creates an obvious conflict between two very powerful Sanibel interests - the tourist industry and the extensive environmental interests. A real problem as the two are VERY connected as Sanibel is largely and environmental destination. Natural, authentic, small, unspoiled and teeming with wildlife (and not the kind you see in Key West).
Even Sanibel's world famous shelling seemed affected. Sue Sea has been visiting Sanibel for over 30 years and is a major sheller (and victim to the named "Sanibel Stoop"). Since the algae hit the beaches, shells have been hard to come by as they are displaced by the mounds.
My Personal Observations:
1. This conflict may be unresolveable as machine clearing of the beaches may well destroy the environment that most visitors expect. Hand-raking is impractical. The cost is excessive either way, and two days after a clean-up, and...
2. Sanibel, though wealthy, is small sweet potatoes compared to Big Sugar and our prositutes, er, politicians. When (push) comes to SUGAR SHOVE, well...
3. The red algae now has a foothold. It may well be that the environment's alteration is approaching permanent. It's kinda like global warming - we act now, or else!
Edited by Capn Jimbo on Feb. 06 2007,11:17
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