A recent photo shoot done on Florida’s Gulf Coast is going viral and calling attention to the heartbreaking algae crisis that’s impacting the state.

For months now, red tide and blue-green algae have been impacting marine life, residents and businesses along the state’s west coast in what many are calling an environmental crisis.

Many Floridians have said the red tide blooms are worse this year than they’ve ever seen. Respiratory irritation has driven tourists and residents away from beaches, and marine life has been washing up dead along shorelines. The state is also dealing with blue-green algae (or cyanobacteria) blooms spreading from Lake Okeechobee. Last month, Gov. Rick Scott issued an emergency order to combat the blooms in several counties and blamed them on water discharges from the Army Corps of Engineers.

After witnessing the impacts of the algae blooms, one Florida photographer decided to take action and call attention to the “ecological disaster.” 

Hollie Tiner Agapi owns Hollie T Photography in the Fort Myers area. She’s also a hunter, fisher and wildlife enthusiast who grew up on the water and often saw red tide. But she tells WFLA it wasn’t as frequent, long-lasting or severe as it is now.

“A group of local photographers and I were constantly having to give each other updates of what beaches to avoid and how awful the fish kills and air quality was,” Agapi told WFLA. “I thought how crazy it was that some people were having to drive hours to find a clean beach to do sessions on.”

“We’ve had so many clients have to cancel vacations, sessions and even move their weddings to the east coast due to poor water quality,” she added.

That’s when Agapi enlisted the help of her friends Ricky and Lacey, two prior clients whose wedding she photographed less than a year ago. The three decided to do a mock couples photo shoot at one of the impacted beaches in their area.

“They have a heart for the environment and were happy to volunteer for this project,” Agapi said. 

On Aug. 4, the trio headed out to Lovers Key State Park in Fort Myers. The most recent water report from the FWC shows Karenia brevis, the Florida red tide organism, in high concentration at Lovers Key.

The heartbreaking yet powerful photos from the shoot show Ricky and Lacey wearing facemasks, posing among dead fish, crabs and other marine animals. Even with the masks on, Agapi says the smell was overwhelming.

“We had to be careful where we walked not to step on dead sea life. We used gloves to move the fish and create the heart on the beach. The fish and sand were covered in maggots whenever we lifted them,” she said.

After the photo shoot, Agapi posted the pictures on Facebook with a message that read, in part, “Without people taking a stand this will become our normal and we will lose our fragile habitats and the beauty that makes our area so special.”

The gallery of photos quickly struck a chord with Floridians who are equally heartbroken over the algae crisis. The post has been shared nearly 4,000 times and has almost 2,000 reactions along with hundreds of comments.

Agapi says she just wants to bring awareness to what’s happening and generate more conversation about possible solutions.

“I hope that ‘Real Florida’ and its natural beauty is something that I get to share with my children one day,” she said. “I hope it’s something they’ll get to experience and not listen to as a fanciful story.”