The Facts on Florida Red Tide – It Is NOT Caused by Lake Okeechobee

Dear Interested Media,

There have been several recent news stories referencing representatives from groups with an anti-farming agenda that have been pushing the idea that Lake Okeechobee (via U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ coastal discharges) is responsible for red tide. This idea is completely false, and factual statements to correct that misinformation have been made recently by well-respected scientists with research organizations that have studied Florida red tide for decades.

The current red tide bloom began in October 2017, at least eight months before discharges in Lake Okeechobee began. According to a December story in the Fort Myers News-Press, “This bloom probably started in October (of 2017) as several cormorants with red tide poisoning were taken to the Center for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, or CROW, on Sanibel then.”

Last week, Mote Marine staff scientist Dr. Tracy Fanara was quoted in the Palm Beach Post as saying that Lake Okeechobee is not the cause of this red tide event:

And while red tide will take advantage of high nutrient levels near the coast to multiply, Fanara said it’s not Lake Okeechobee discharges that initiated this year’s bloom. Also, the mouth of the Caloosahatchee is too far south for its water to reach areas such as Venice, which has also suffered bouts of red tide this summer, Fanara said.

“That’s the biggest misconception that we hear. Lake O releases did not initiate this bloom,” she said. “It is unique that it has lasted this late into the summer, but it’s not necessarily widespread and we’ve had blooms that have gone all the way up into the Panhandle.”

Additionally, Mote Marine’s Question and Answer on Red Tide states that fresh water flows from the river are not likely to contribute to the growth of Florida red tide:

“Salinity also matters. Riverine flows into the estuary have low salinity (less salt than the ocean), which is not conducive to K. brevis red tide growth.”

Yesterday, the University of Florida’s IFAS extension office in Osceola released info consistent with what Mote Marine has said:

                Red tide is not caused by the same organism as the Lake Okeechobee algal bloom.              

Finally, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) states in its frequently asked questions that red tide is not caused by nutrient pollution (urban or agricultural) and additionally, is not made worse by it, either:

                Has coastal (nutrient) pollution caused the Florida red tide?

In contrast to the many red tide species that are fueled by nutrient pollution associated with urban or agricultural runoff, there is no direct link between nutrient pollution and the frequency or severity of red tides caused by K. brevis. Florida red tides develop 10-40 miles offshore, away from man-made nutrient sources. Red tides occurred in Florida long before human settlement, and severe red tides were observed in the mid-1900s before the state’s coastlines were heavily developed. However, once red tides are transported inshore, they are capable of using man-made nutrients for their growth.

Even if it was true that water from Lake Okeechobee was causing red tide (which it most certainly is not), virtually none of the water from Lake Okeechobee comes from the south where sugarcane and vegetable farms are located.   According to South Florida Water Management District data, more than 95 percent of the water and nutrients flowing into Lake Okeechobee originate from the north.  In 2018, less than 2% of the water/nutrients in Lake Okeechobee entered as flood control for communities south of the Lake.

Dr. Tracy Fanara, who is known as Inspector Planet on Instagram, said recently in an Instagram story that while people are trying to blame sugarcane farmers, it is simply not true! You can watch her story (Under the title, MBusting Motive


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