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Sarasota County

Could humans be contributing to this red tide crisis?

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) - All summer long, we've been seeing tragic images of sea life washing up dead on our shores. Red tide has been seen as one of the chief culprits, but many are wondering if humans bear most of the blame? 

Captain Wayne Genthner of Wolfmouth Charters had plenty of time on his hands on Tuesday.

Jult has been a very slow month. He says business this month has dropped 50 percent.

“Certainly people don’t want to go on a boat and tour around and see a bunch of dead fish,” said Genthner. “This is the middle of summer, and I don’t see boats here at all.”

Tragic scenes of large, dead sea life have played out across the region. Red tide is considered the culprit and this perception is hurting the local tourism economy.

Genther does not believe this is a natural phenomenon.

"I do not. A natural red tide bloom would not be as strong,” said Genthner.

Genthner blames discharge from the algae-filled Lake Okeechobee and pollution from fertilizers. 

“That red tide exists because we made bad land development decisions 50 years ago. We’re paying for it now,” said Genthner.

Dr. Vincent Lovko from Mote Marine Lab said it's possible that fertilizers could play a role, but more research is needed.

“Not that we say it can't influence it, but we don't really have the information to say it is influencing it,” said Lovko.

Lovko points out harsh red tide blooms have existed here centuries before modern fertilizers.

“Red tide has persisted or existed here since like the 1600s at least, probably longer than that, and even persistent blooms that have lasted many months and that was before we had all the development and agriculture that we currently have,” said Dr. Lovko.

"There's a lot of information we need to sort out to determine if those land-derived nutrients are making blooms larger or longer or worse.”

Lovko adds, “Certainly it can use nutrients that are coming from land, human derived nutrients, and from all those sources that you mentioned, but its also using natural sources as well.” 

Meanwhile, Genthner wonders when this will end.

"I am incredibly worried,” he said.

Studies have shown red tide begins in the gulf and is brought toward shore by currents.

Historically, there have been blooms that have lasted for 18 months, so its just too early to tell for sure if fertilizers are contributing to this mess.

 


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