An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: Sarasota County, USF Water Institute

Water-Related News

FISH nets new funding from fundraiser, FWC

The Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH) received another much-needed injection of funding at its June 4 meeting.

Coming off a sub-par Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival fundraiser, FISH board members said they hoped to fill in the revenue shortfall by other means.

And so they did.

FISH raised $30,000 through participation in the Giving Challenge in May.

The next fiscal gain was larger. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) announced a gift of $116,000 to help FISH remove invasive vegetation and enhance the 95-acre preserve established by the organization to buffer the fishing village from development.

“This was the highest-scoring and most-liked of all projects statewide,” said Corey Anderson of the FWC. “It has lots of support from lots of people.”

The money will pay for clearing exotic trees and tidal channel excavation within the 95-acre FISH Preserve. Invasive Australian pine and Brazilian pepper trees will be removed from 2.4 acres and tidal channels will be excavated on approximately 1 acre.

The only catch: the money, which will be available July 1, must be spent within 12 months of receipt.

“That’s a relatively quick turnaround,” Anderson said.

Anderson emphasized the money is not a grant. It comes from a $300,000 FWC trust fund dedicated to supporting freshwater marine projects.

The FWC is hiring, supervising and paying the contractor.

FISH is responsible for fulfilling the FWC’s scope-of-work document. FISH has secured permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Florida Department of Environmental Protection, according to vice president Jane von Hahmann.

The funding puts FISH, the Cortez group dedicated to preserving and enhancing the commercial fishing way of life, back on track.

Founded in 1991, FISH also operates boat-building and repair programs and members lobby against land developments deemed harmful to commercial fishing.

FISH will next meet at 7 p.m. Monday, July 2, at Fishermen’s Hall, 4511 124th St. W.

The fate of Florida's wetlands could be decided behind closed doors, groups say

Environmental and activist groups are criticizing the state for drafting in secrecy the details of a new permitting process to build in Florida’s wetlands.

In a letter Monday addressed to Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein, environmental groups Audubon Florida and 1000 Friends of Florida alongside the League of Women Voters called for a more transparent process in DEP’s workshopping of an application that would give the state almost exclusive discretion in doling out permits to build in wetlands.

Currently, there are two systems in place to authorize building in Florida’s wetlands. Developers can request a permit through the state, or they can go through the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Over the years, the state’s permitting process has been streamlined, whereas the EPA’s system has remained slow. Some have described it as redundant.

HB 7043, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in March, gives DEP permission to draft an application to the EPA to allow the state to authorize federal permits, so long as they don’t breach Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act, which approves on a case-by-case basis development — known as “dredge and fill” activities — in wetlands.

DEP is rapidly drafting the application and taking public comment as is standard during accompanying rule-making workshops. It’s held three workshops around the state already, along with an online webinar. An estimated 300 Floridians have weighed in on rule-making, according to DEP, and the agency recently extended its public comment period by two weeks.

But the signatories of the Monday letter fear that a great bulk of the details of the application are being drafted outside of the sunshine.

Despite permit, Big Pass dredge remains contentious

The state has approved plans to renourish Lido Key with sand from Big Pass, but Siesta Key residents are still considering options for objecting.

Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin has spent years urging Siesta Key residents to drop their opposition to the city’s plans to renourish Lido Key with sand dredged from Big Pass.

For years, those efforts have been unsuccessful. Siesta residents maintain the project could harm their island and create more severe wave action in the waters between the two keys. They’ve consistently cast doubts on any studies designed to provide assurance that the dredging will not be problematic.

And yet, this week, Barwin made the same overtures following the latest sign of progress for the Big Pass dredging — the state’s decision to issue a permit for the project.

Mote Scientists tag two whale sharks off southwest Florida

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Thanks to whale shark sightings reported by the public off the southwest Florida coast in early June, scientists from Mote Marine Laboratory located five of the polka-dotted, filter-feeding giants and tagged two of them with tracking devices on the afternoon of June 14.

All five whale sharks were found offshore of Longboat Key and New Pass, feeding at the surface possibly on fish eggs as well as other forms of plankton.

“It is not uncommon for whale sharks to be spotted feeding in the Gulf this time of year, but the duration of their stay is longer than in previous years,” said Dr. Robert Hueter, Senior Scientist and Director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote. “Reported sightings are usually scattered, but the sharks’ locations have stayed pretty stable, as most sightings have been about 30-40 miles off Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key.”

The first shark, a 16-foot-long male nicknamed “Colt,” was tagged around 12:30 p.m., about 40 miles offshore of Sarasota County. As the team was traveling back to shore around 2 p.m., they found and tagged a 22- to 25-foot female nicknamed “Minnie” and photographed her unique spot patterns for later identification. Three more whale sharks were found and photographed in a group closer to shore.

The trip was made possible by Captain Wylie Nagler, owner of Yellowfin Yachts, who transported the research team on his large vessel, allowing them to travel far and fast enough to locate the animals.

The tracking tags will store data about the whale sharks’ location, and the depths and temperatures they encounter.

North Port repairs bridge at Warm Mineral Springs Park

The City of North Port is coordinating repairs to a pedestrian bridge at Warm Mineral Springs Park beginning Monday, June 25. It is estimated the work will take four days, pending weather.

Repair includes grinding and resurfacing to address areas that are delaminating and fragmenting.

Although the Springs will still be accessible, patrons will not be able to utilize the bridge during the work. This will impact quick access to the northwestern side of the grounds.

The City of North Port appreciates everyone’s patience and cooperation as the City works on this improvement.

Free admission for Sarasota County residents at Warm Mineral Springs Park on Aug. 11

Have you always wanted to check out Warm Mineral Springs Park? Daily admission will be waived for all Sarasota County residents on Saturday, August 11, 2018. The park is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Spring maintains 85 degrees year-round and contains an estimated 51 minerals – one of the highest mineral content of any natural spring in the United States. People worldwide visit the Park annually to soak in the mineral dense waters. The Spring is also the only warm spring in Florida.

Beneath the Spring’s depths is one of the most important underwater archeological sites in America. It is believed that the Spring dates back to the Ice Age. During exploratory dives in the 1950s, the remains of a prehistoric man and evidence of several creatures were discovered, including saber tooth tigers, giant sloths, tortoises, and even camels. The Spring has been added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Warm Mineral Springs Park is owned by the City of North Port and operated by National & State Park Concessions. Proof of residence will be required for admission into the Springs on Aug. 11, including a driver’s license or an FPL bill, water bill, tax bill, or deed. Spa services are not included in the free admission and must be booked in advance and paid for separately.

For more information about Warm Mineral Springs Park, including general rules and prohibited items, visit www.cityofnorthport.com/warmmineralspringspark or call 941-426-1692.

Red tide largely spares Manatee County, but plagues beaches to the south

MANATEE COUNTY – The shores of Manatee County have lately been relatively free of the effects of red tide. But as beachgoers venture farther south along the Gulf of Mexico, it's a different story.

On Monday afternoon, beaches from Lido Key to Venice North Jetty reported some dead fish, some respiratory irritation or a little bit of both. This is according to Mote Marine Laboratory's Sarasota Operations Coastal Oceans Observation Lab, or SO COOL for short, which gathers the conditions of 29 beaches from Caladesi Island to Marco Island.

The Karenia brevis organism is naturally occurring but when it accumulates in toxic amounts, it becomes red tide. It's obvious to tell when red tide is on a beach when itchy, watery eyes or scratchy throats become unbearable, or if dead fish litter the shore.

Vince Lovko, phytoplankton ecology scientist with Mote Marine, said this particular bloom is "unusual, not remarkable." By this, he means that although red tide is typically known to appear between late summer and early fall, this particular instance in Manatee and Sarasota waters isn't that strange. The first day of summer is Thursday.

"Certainly we are aware that red tide ... can happen any time of the year," Lovko said.

The trouble is knowing enough about K. brevis to predict when it's going to happen, or to stop it from happening altogether. He compared it to predicting the weather.

"We don't try to change the weather, but we do try to get better at predicting it," he said.

He suspects that the recent harmful algal bloom is actually part of a bloom that has persisted since November 2017.

Mote to host fifth Sarasota Lionfish Derby

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Mote Marine Laboratory and Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) are teaming up to help combat invasive lionfish that are taking over the Gulf of Mexico. Get ready for the July 6-8 Sarasota Lionfish Derby hosted by Mote, an environmentally beneficial event that helps divers harvest lionfish and provides public education. Join local chefs for a lionfish tasting competition, tickets available for $15 per person.

Lionfish Derbies are an important way to harvest large numbers of this invasive species that has spread along the eastern Atlantic coast, Columbia to Escambia counties. Derbies help divers harvest lionfish and provide public education.

This year’s event will be based at Mote, with a captain's meeting on July 6, lionfish hunting July 7 in the beautiful Gulf of Mexico — tournament boundaries are defined as Collier County to Escambia County — and the lionfish weigh-in July 8 at Mote Marine Laboratory. Cost to participate in the Derby is $120.00 per team (minimum 2 people per team, maximum 4 people). The public is invited to join Mote scientists and derby participants at the weigh-in for educational dissections and lionfish tastings on Sunday.

Missed the Environmental Summit? Now you can watch the video!

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The 2018 Environmental Summit delivered a fast-paced program highlighting connections between our environmental heritage and a resilient future, between natural habitats and fish and wildlife, and between a healthy environment and our quality of life.

The April 26–27 sold-out event featured over 70 speakers participating in panel discussions, invited viewpoint presentations, and rapid-fire lightning talks with live audience polling throughout. Almost 350 registered participants attended, including scientists, educators, resource managers, non-profit leaders, students, business professionals, and community members.

Trump's move to redefine water rule threatens wetlands banks

GAINESVILLE — A private firm is making big money selling promises about some gator-infested Florida swampland.

The Panther Island Mitigation Bank isn't another land boondoggle, but part of a federal system designed to restore wetlands across the United States. Panther Island's owners preserved one of the nation's last stands of virgin bald cypress, 4 square miles (10 square kilometers) on the western edge of the Everglades where they cleared away invasive plants and welcomed back wood storks, otters and other native flora and fauna.

Banks like this sell "wetlands mitigation credits" to developers for up to $300,000 apiece, offsetting the destruction of marshes by construction projects elsewhere. It's a billion-dollar industry that has slowed the loss of U.S. wetlands, half of which are already gone.

This uniquely American mix of conservation and capitalism has been supported by every president since George H.W. Bush pledged a goal of "no net loss" of wetlands, growing a market for mitigation credits from about 40 banks in the early 1990s to nearly 1,500 today. Investors include Chevron and Wall Street firms, working alongside the Audubon Society and other environmental groups.

Now the market is at risk.

Administrator Scott Pruitt's Environmental Protection Agency has completed a proposal for implementing President Donald Trump's executive order to replace the Waters of the United States rule, or WOTUS, with a much more limited definition of what constitutes a protected federal waterway.

Low to medium red tide levels linger in Sarasota County

SARASOTA COUNTY — Patches of red tide will remain through the weekend at Sarasota County beaches, irritating those looking for a beach getaway.

The Florida Department of Health in Sarasota released an updated report Thursday that stated Manasota and Blind Pass have high levels of red tide cell counts — over 2,400 cells per milliliter — leading to the continuation of a red tide advisory.

But depending on where you drop your towel, there are still plenty of spots to enjoy sun and surf this weekend.

Caspersen Beach, Turtle Beach, and Longboat Key had minimal signs of respiratory irritation and dead fish that often accompanies the algal bloom known as Karenia brevis. The maddening effect causes coughing. The bloom has persisted for about two weeks.

North Lido and central Lido beaches had medium red tide counts, while South Lido was low. Lower levels were also recorded at Nokomis Beach, North Jetty, Venice Fishing Pier, and Brohard (Dog) Beach, which were all under 100 cells per milliliter.

Study: Anatartica's ice is rapidly melting, threatening coastal communities worldwide

OSLO – An accelerating thaw of Antarctica has pushed up world sea levels by almost a centimeter since the early 1990s in a risk for coasts from Pacific islands to Florida, an international team of scientists said on Thursday.

Antarctica has enough ice to raise seas by 190 feet if it ever all melted, dwarfing frozen stores in places from Greenland to the Himalayas and making its future the biggest uncertainty in understanding global warming and ocean levels.

The frozen continent lost almost 3 trillion tons of ice between 1992 and 2017, the 84 scientists said in what they called the most complete overview of Antarctic ice to date.

The thaw, tracked by satellite data and other measurements, contributed 0.3 inches to sea level rise since 1992, they wrote in the journal Nature.

And the ice losses quickened to 219 billion tons a year since 2012, from 76 billion previously. "The sharp increase … is a big surprise," professor Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds and a leader of the report, told Reuters.

See a whale shark in the Gulf? Call Mote Marine Lab immediately!

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Please report any whale shark sightings in the Gulf of Mexico immediately from your boat or just after disembarking, within 24 hours at most, to Dr. Bob Hueter at Mote’s Center for Shark Research: 941-302-0976. Please note the number of whale sharks spotted, the date, time, location and exact GPS coordinates if possible.

Mote Marine Laboratory received a report of five whale sharks — Earth’s largest fish species — about 40 miles off Anna Maria Island last weekend, and Mote scientists are asking members of the public to report new sightings off Florida’s Gulf Coast immediately.

“It’s exciting that we are hearing reports of five whale sharks in one area, because it suggests they might be feeding on something in a special spot,” said Dr. Bob Hueter, Senior Scientist and Director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote.

Whale sharks sporadically visit Southwest Florida’s coastal waters, most likely to filter-feed on localized blooms of plankton or fish eggs. They are easily identified by their massive size, up to about 45 feet, and their polka dot coloration. “It’s important to understand where these sharks migrate, feed and carry out other key parts of their life cycles, so that resource managers can successfully protect them,” Hueter said. “We have placed satellite-linked tracking tags on numerous whale sharks at a major feeding aggregation off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in the past decade, but it’s rarer that we can find and tag these huge fish off Florida’s Gulf Coast.”

If others are reported in the Gulf, Hueter and partners want to attach a special type of satellite tag to one or more of these gentle giants, to collect data on their geographic location and the temperatures and depths they encounter over a six-month period.

This tag trails behind the shark’s first dorsal fin on a short tether and, whenever the shark is at the surface, the tag transmits precise location data. Retrieving the tag will yield extensive data, but if it cannot be recovered, the scientists will still receive real-time GPS signals from the tag, revealing where the shark is traveling, along with other summarized data on depth and temperature.

Please report any whale shark sightings in the Gulf of Mexico immediately from your boat or just after disembarking, within 24 hours at most, to Dr. Bob Hueter at Mote’s Center for Shark Research: 941-302-0976. Please note the number of whale sharks spotted, the date, time, location and exact GPS coordinates if possible.

Beach Erosion is a two-part problem for Sarasota

Even though Subtropical Storm Alberto only brushed the coast of Florida last month, at least one of its beaches experienced some significant damage.

Lido Beach, a popular tourist spot in Sarasota, was under a state of emergency due to beach erosion.

"Tropical force winds were not really consistent," Tom Barwin, the City Manager of Sarasota said. "The rain was not heavy, but the Gulf of Mexico was really churned up and it took a good seven to eight feet of beach."

During the storm, the surf was consistently pounding the sand on Lido Beach. Barwin said such beach erosion can lead to a variety of problems.

The immediate issue is increased potential for flooding in public and private property, but the other is more cause for environmental concern.

Sarasota seeking state money for eroded Lido Beach

SARASOTA — The city is petitioning the state to allocate more money to rebuild chunks of Lido Beach that washed away during Subtropical Storm Alberto, prompting the city manager to declare a state of emergency.

The Sarasota City Commission on Monday passed a resolution asking the state to grant more funding for Lido Beach renourishment projects, while expressing the city’s willingness to match state money to rebuild parts of the shoreline that vanish with each storm that strikes the vulnerable area. The request comes days after City Manager Tom Barwin declared a state of emergency for the severely eroded beach, which lost roughly seven to eight feet of dunes and shoreline from Alberto’s brush with the state.

Hurricane season has anxiety running high. How much is development to blame?

MANATEE – Most agree that a major storm packing fast and furious rain events can't stop flooding from taking place across Manatee County. A lot of factors go into it, including the amount of rain, how fast it drops, tides, stormwater pipe capacity, and yes, development.

While new developments come with the bells and whistles of modern stormwater infrastructure and retention ponds, no one is building a new Ware's Creek or a new Cedar Hammock drainage canal. New drainage pipes can whisk away the water from that particular project, but the water still has only so many places to go.

With hurricane season once again upon us, anxiety levels are running high in those neighborhood that have historical flooding issues, as well as areas that have recently been prone to flooding due to surrounding new development.

Lido Beach erosion hurting businesses and causing property damage

SARASOTA — Severe erosion and storm surge on Lido Beach from Subtropical Storm Alberto have financially impacted businesses and caused property damage, city officials said a day after declaring a state of emergency for the vanishing beach.

Private properties on Lido Beach sustained some damage from Subtropical Storm Alberto, which battered the shoreline with rough seas and storm surge during Memorial Day weekend, while the concession stand at Lido Beach Pool and Pavilion suffered economic losses, City Manager Tom Barwin said Thursday. Barwin, who declared a state of emergency Wednesday for portions of the beach because of severe erosion, believes other businesses on the island are suffering economically because of the erosion that has prompted patrons to go elsewhere. It’s still too early to quantify the economic losses, Barwin said.

“We have begun to see some property damage. Some of the stairs that access the residential areas down to the beach have been wiped out,” Barwin said of private property damage he witnessed during a walking tour of the beach Wednesday with a Florida Department of Environmental Protection official. “Some brick work has been separated from its foundation on some decking areas.”

“Literally, the ground is being eaten away by the tides during storm situations,” Barwin said of the erosion, adding, “It’s beginning to impact some of the commerce.”

Barwin declared the local emergency Wednesday after already eroded beach areas sustained further losses from Alberto. While other areas of the state experienced severe thunderstorms, widespread rain and tornadoes, the Sarasota-Manatee area was largely spared after dry air inhibited the storm. But the shoreline was still affected by rough seas and storm surge in some areas.

Sarasota County's 2017 Drinking Water Quality Report now available

The 2017 Sarasota County Drinking Water Quality Report is now available online.

The report, which details the high quality of Sarasota County's water, includes a summary for the county's customers, gives information about where the county's water comes from, what it contains and how it compares to the standards set by regulatory agencies.

Earlier this year, Sarasota County's drinking water was named the best tasting water in the area by Region X of the Florida Section of the American Water Works Association.

The report can viewed online (here) or from the scgov.net homepage (keywords 2017 water quality report). A hard copy of the report can also be requested by sending an email to waterquality@scgov.net or by calling the Sarasota County Contact Center at 941-861-5000.