SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) - Thousands of Floridians living along the state's Gulf Coast came together this weekend to express their frustrations and concerns about the recent algae crisis plaguing beaches.
All summer long, red tide blooms have been impacting beaches in Southwest Florida, and the businesses nearby. At the same time, a toxic mix of nutrients and green algae are flowing from Lake Okeechobee and choking waterways from the Caloosahatchee River to the Indian River Lagoon.
Many red tide blooms produce toxic chemicals that can kill fish and cause respiratory irritation for humans when released into the air. Blooms reported in Sarasota, Lee, Charlotte and Collier counties have left beaches empty for the past several weeks, with fish kills washing up along the shore. Many fear the red tide will soon impact Manatee County and Pinellas County beaches.
Last month, environmental activist Erin Brockovich slammed Florida's elected officials over the algae crisis.
And Brockovich is not the only one expressing anger and concern.
As summer wears on, frustrations have continued to boil over for residents who feel that nothing is being done to protect the beaches and marine life. That's why hundreds planned Hands Along the Water events to take a stand and call for action.
The South Florida Clean Water Movement group has more than 54,000 members. Organizers describe it as "a group of concerned citizens rallying to end the toxic Lake Okeechobee discharges that destroy our river, estuary, and local Gulf waters."
"Someone came up with the idea and all of us in different areas just jumped in and on board with it," Trask told WFLA.
Dozens of Hands Along the Water events were scheduled to take place on Sunday, including several in the Tampa Bay area.
According to the main event page, the plan was to "peacefully come together as one" on different beaches throughout South Florida and hold hands in solidarity to defend the water and wildlife.
"By locking hands we will show that we do not, and will not, stand for our beautiful beaches, wildlife, homes and livelihoods to continuously be destroyed and impacted by the water released from Lake O," organizers say.
Trask tells us they're hoping the events will catch the attention of elected officials.
"To get the word out and bring awareness to what's going on here," she explained. "So many people don't know, have no clue. And we need help to save our waters, our sea life, our livelihood, our lives here."
The events were described as family events held by volunteers. They were not sponsored by an organization and organizers said no money or donations would be collected.
"We are locals that want our beaches back and to save marine life," the event description says.
Organizers also wanted to be clear that everyone would be participating at their own risk.
"We strongly advise those with respiratory problems, weakened immune systems and others with health issues to stay home and make calls or write letters during this time," the Sarasota event description says.
Those who were interested in attending were asked to wear a mask and shoes to the beach for safety. Organizers also asked for pets to be left at home.
You can find a full list of locations here.
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