An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: USF Water Institute

Water-Related News

Stone crab larvae perish from red tide, but bloom intensity matters

Mote scientists and Pitzer College partners aimed to better understand how newly hatched larvae might be affected by a bloom of Florida red tide (Karenia brevis) persisting into the stone crabs’ summer reproductive season. K. brevis blooms typically occur in the Gulf of Mexico from early fall into spring but can last a year or more — as did the severe bloom from late 2017 into early 2019.

This study is the latest of several Mote projects investigating multiple stressors to stone crabs, with the goal of better understanding the 25% decrease in southwest Florida’s yearly stone crab catch since 2000 and informing resource managers working to help the fishery rebound. The study was supported by grants to Mote from The Steinwachs Family Foundation and The National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduate program.

“Our previous research suggests that sublegal stone crabs, whose claws are nearing legal harvest size, have a short window of tolerance for elevated concentrations of Florida red tide algae and begin to die off when that window is exceeded,” said Mote Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr. Phil Gravinese. “This is one possible way that red tide might reduce the catch rate. Alternatively, severe and prolonged blooms that overlap with the crabs’ summer reproductive season might be reducing the number of offspring, or larvae, that are available to recruit into the fishery.”

‘Gumbo’ of blue-green algae stinks up Manatee and Sarasota beaches

Last year, when a persistent Red Tide algae bloom touched all three of Florida's coasts, Southwest Florida had to put up with it the longest. The toxic algae stuck around Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota and Manatee county beaches for months on end, driving away tourists and depositing dead fish galore on the shore.

Now a new algae bloom is threatening some of those same beaches. It's not Red Tide. It's a type of blue-green algae known as "Lyngbya," which has long caused problems in the state's springs.

It might give swimmers a rash, but it doesn't kill anything but your appetite.

"It makes you want to go inside and close your windows and turn on your air conditioning, because it stinks," Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth, granddaughter of the city’s namesake, John “Jack” Holmes Sr., said this week.

Florida's dirty water tops list of woes for new chief science officer

Florida's ongoing water woes tops the list of problems to be tackled by the state's new chief science officer.

In his first press briefing Friday, Tom Frazer, an aquatic ecologist and director of the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Florida, said he plans on convening a new blue green algae task force in early June. Armed with money newly approved by lawmakers, the group plans to find smaller projects that might have a more immediate fix for water quality issues in and around Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.

"We do have a number of available funds to implement projects in [drainage basins] and we need to prioritize those and move forward on the best ones possible," Frazer said.

In April, Gov. Ron DeSantis named Frazer the state's first chief science officer to help address spiraling environmental issues. Algae blooms now regularly foul the Treasure Coast and Caloosahatchee estuary, and pollution has worsened water quality in Central Florida springs and South Florida's Biscayne Bay and Florida Bay. DeSantis has pledged to spend $2.5 billion over the next four years to improve water and earlier this month, lawmakers approved a budget that included $682 million in spending over the next year. 

Nurdle Patrol looks for plastic pellets on Florida's beaches

People are searching for small pieces of plastic called nurdles on local beaches.

"Nurdles are very small. They're called pelletized plastics. They're smaller than your pinky finger tip. They're about the size of a lentil. They're typically melted down to make larger plastic products," said Maya Burke with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

Maya Burke, a Science Policy Coordinator with Tampa Bay Estuary Program, found 2 nurdles on a beach near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

"I have been looking for nurdles since February of this year. We've been helping some of our partners with Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve," said Maya Burke.

New wrinkles in canal plan have Longboat leaders looking at options

It might be a while before a dredge crew can begin moving through the town’s public canals, but last summer’s red tide outbreak could end up playing a role in cutting the cost of the project.

Plans have been discussed for at least three years, and consultant Taylor Engineering Inc. updated town commissioners in April 2017 on the town’s Canal Dredging Feasibility Study.

At the time, the consultant identified 16 of the Key’s canals as “priority canals,” or those most in need of dredging to a depth of 3 feet below mean low water. This list included Canal 1A, which connects the lagoon of Greer Island to Sarasota Bay. That number was later revised to 14 canals and the Greer Island Beneficial Use Project, aimed at opening better access between Sarasota Bay and the lagoon along Greer Island, was identified. Material would be added to the gulf-side of the island to help bulk it up against wave action and erosion. 

Could global warming lead to quieter hurricane seasons? Experts say yes, with a caveat

If there is any positive to come out of global warming it could be this: Its effects may work to reduce the number of Atlantic hurricanes we see in the future, according to the nation’s leading storm scientists.

That comes with a (significant) caveat. Experts say warming-induced sea level rise means the wall of water that surges into coastal areas during hurricanes will get more deadly and destructive with each storm that hits, especially in places like south Louisiana.

Hurricane experts gathered in New Orleans from Monday to Thursday last week for the National Hurricane Conference, an event focused on hurricane preparedness. The closing panel on Wednesday (April 24) focused on storm forecasting and our changing climate.

Dr. Christopher Landsea, science and operations officer at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, noted hurricanes “are natural heat engines,” relying on moisture and heat to grow. One might assume global warming would boost the strength and frequency of storms. But models show global warming may actually increase the speed and dryness of trade winds that cut across the lower Caribbean and into the Atlantic Ocean, a factor that could work to “tear hurricanes apart” in the future, he said.

Trump to ease drilling rules sparked by 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill

The Trump administration is poised to relax offshore drilling requirements imposed in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 people in 2010 and unleashed the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

The Interior Department will unveil its final plan Thursday to ease some of the mandates, following industry complaints they are unwieldy and expensive, said two people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named before a formal announcement. The White House Office of Management and Budget said it had completed a review of the drafted regulation on Monday, clearing it for a final release.

The measure is set to ease requirements for real-time monitoring of offshore operations and mandated third-party certifications of emergency equipment that can be summoned as a last resort to block explosive surges of oil and gas flowing up from wells. Many of the final changes were already outlined in a proposal released last year.

Trump administration officials previously cast the changes as a surgical revision of the Obama-era rule, arguing the rewrite would better align with voluntary industry standards, decrease downtime on rigs and lead to more than $900 million in oil industry savings over the next decade.

Lawmakers introduce bill forcing EPA to set legal limit for all PFAS in drinking water

A bipartisan bill introduced in the House today would require the Environmental Protection Agency to set a health-protective legal limit in drinking water for the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, which contaminate a rapidly growing roster of hundreds of public water systems nationwide.

The Protect Drinking Water from PFAS Act (H.R. 2377), authored by Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), would amend the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to require EPA chief Andrew Wheeler to set a Maximum Contaminant Level, or MCL, for all PFAS chemicals within two years. The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) and Dan Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.).

There are currently no federally enforceable standards for PFAS chemicals in drinking water. In February, Wheeler released the Trump administration’s toothless “PFAS Action Plan,” which failed to set a clear timeline for implementing a drinking water MCL for PFAS chemicals.

“If the EPA won’t do its job and help communities stop the flow of PFAS-contaminated water into homes, schools and businesses, Congress must force them to act,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs. “Refusing to tackle this drinking water crisis head-on, while millions of Americans are being exposed to these dangerous chemicals, clearly shows the Trump administration will not clean up this mess unless it’s forced to by law.”

New EPA document tells communities to brace for climate change impacts

The Environmental Protection Agency published a 150-page document this past week with a straightforward message for coping with the fallout from natural disasters across the country: Start planning for the fact that climate change is going to make these catastrophes worse.

The language, included in guidance on how to address the debris left in the wake of floods, hurricanes and wildfires, is at odds with the rhetoric of the EPA’s own leader, Andrew Wheeler. Just last month, Wheeler said in an interview with CBS that “most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out.”

Multiple recent studies have identified how climate change is already affecting the United States and the globe. In the western United States, for example, regional temperatures have increased by almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970s, and snowmelt is occurring a month earlier in areas, extending the fire season by three months and quintupling the number of large fires. Another scientific paper, co-authored by EPA researchers, found that unless the United States slashes carbon emissions, climate change will probably cost the United States hundreds of billions of dollars annually by 2100.

Has a Longboat Key retiree solved the puzzle of the red tide?

Not every Longboat senior spends lazy days playing golf and lounging by the pool. Since he retired to the key in 2002, after a long career at General Electric Aircraft Engines, Lenny Landau has earned a reputation for deep dives into complex issues affecting the region. Dubbed “the data king of Longboat Key” by an island newspaper, the determined 76-year-old mechanical engineer has immersed himself in white papers, scientific abstracts and studies most of us would find dry and daunting, learning about topics from beach erosion to sewer systems. He says he likes to reflect on his research and “put the puzzle together” while riding his bike along Gulf of Mexico Drive or walking his 160-pound English mastiff.

The puzzle that has consumed Landau for the past several years is red tide. A few months ago, he talked about his findings at a seminar at USF Sarasota-Manatee that was presented in partnership with the Global Interdependence Center and Cumberland Advisors. Landau likes to stress that he is not a scientist, but seminar moderator and meteorologist Bob Bunting, a former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist, says Landau has done something scientists haven’t done—and aren’t meant to do. “Their mission is discoveries, and not translation and application,” says Bunting. “Landau has unearthed the puzzle pieces, many buried here and there, and put them together in a way that people can understand and begin to act on.”

About two years ago, Landau began studying the possible effects of climate change—particularly sea level rise—on our region. As serious as such issues are, he says, people tend to avoid dealing with them because they think they won’t suffer dire consequences during their lifetimes. But when he came across research linking climate change to red tide, he realized this was an issue that was already impacting us.

‘You can call him our water czar’: Nikki Fried names Florida’s new water policy director

Florida's got a new "water czar," agriculture commissioner Nicole "Nikki" Fried announced Wednesday.

Chris Pettit, who has worked for years in water management districts and county water utilities, will replace Steve Dwinell, who retired as water policy director for the state's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Office of Agricultural Water Policy.

Fried said Pettit and his office will work to develop and implement best management practices, known as BMPs, for agriculture. BMPs, which have been criticized in the past for not being enforced, aim at lowering and maintaining nutrient runoff from farming operations. The nutrient runoff is a key source in the development of the red tide and blue-green algae that choked Florida's coasts and waterways last summer.

Nurdle Patrol on the hunt for plastic pellets

Tiny, plastic pellets are washing ashore in Texas beaches by the thousands, and now they're showing up on Bay Area beaches.

“Nurdles are very, very small,” said Maya Burke, of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, who recently found two nurdles at a beach near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

The lentil-sized plastic beads are used to make larger plastic products.

After discovering thousands of nurdles along the Texas shoreline, Jace Tunnell, the reserve director of the Marine Science Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, created a citizen science project called the Nurdle Patrol in 2018.

Tunnell said the group of volunteers, scattered across the Gulf Coast, have collected about 80,000 nurdles since November. 

Living shoreline project coming soon to SPC Bay Pines STEM Center

In an effort to restore the popular “Hurricane Hole” near Bay Pines and protect Tampa Bay estuary waters and habitats, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) has awarded St. Petersburg College (SPC) a grant that will be used to create a living shoreline.

The $10,071.47 grant focuses on restoration and rehabilitation of a living shoreline at the SPC Bay Pines STEM Center, part of the Tampa Bay estuary known as Hurricane Hole. TBEP believes empowering citizens through programs such as this helps foster an environmental ethic and promote community stewardship of the bay.

This project – low-cost, long-term alternative to repairing and/or replacing the dilapidated seawall at the site – will fill in gaps in the deteriorating structure, restore native habitation and create a living shoreline. SPC students from various ecological classes will engage in restoration efforts and ongoing monitoring of the environment.

NASA grant lets utilities and partners use space agency data in planning

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has awarded a $1.7 million grant to Tampa Bay Water and other water-related organizations in Florida to adapt NASA satellite products for use in planning by utilities.

Tampa Bay Water, the wholesale water supply utility for the Tampa Bay region, is expected to use the NASA data as part of its decision-making on allocating water resources, such as the use of a 15.5-billion-gallon reservoir in Hillsborough County.

And the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority, which serves a similar role in the Sarasota region, would do the same for the operations of its aquifer storage and recovery wells, according to a news release by the University of Florida.

The grant recipients are all members of the Florida Water and Climate Alliance, co-founded by Tampa Bay Water. The alliance has been working for more than a decade with the University of Florida's Water Institute and Florida State University's Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies to use good science in making water-supply decisions.

Local climate scientists present sea level rise projections

The Tampa Bay Climate Science Advisory Panel finds that the region is likely to face between 1.9 and 8.5 feet of sea level rise by the year 2100.

PINELLAS PARK — A group of local scientists has been working on and off for months to come up with Tampa Bay-area projections for sea level rise.

Their verdict: the problem is getting worse.

The Tampa Bay Climate Science Advisory Panel, a group of climate scientists that formed in 2014, presented its findings to a Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council committee Monday. They found that the region is likely to face between 1.9 and 8.5 feet of sea level rise by the year 2100.

The projections are the group's second round of local sea level rise predictions. The current forecasts are 12 to 18 inches higher than their 2015 estimates on average.

Maya Burke, who sits on the advisory panel and who presented the findings Monday, said the projections have gotten more dire for two reasons. One, global greenhouse gas emissions have risen since 2015. Two, scientists understand how arctic ice melt contributes to sea level rise better today than they did a half-decade ago.

Beach leaders discuss efforts to clean up the Gulf

Members of the Barrier Islands Governmental Council got a lesson in how fragile Florida’s waters are and how problems can be dealt with.

At the BIG-C monthly meeting April 24, Maya Burke, science policy coordinator for the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, told the mayors of the beach communities how research and perseverance have managed to clean up the Gulf waters, which at one point had poor quality.

Back in the 1950s, the water was murky and of poor overall quality. Researchers discovered that the lack of seagrass was contributing to the problem.

They then tackled the issue of getting more seagrass to grow by managing nitrogen levels in the water, which decreased the amount of algae. That led to a clearing up of the water which let more light reach into the water which in turn let more seagrass grow.

Burke said it is suspected that the seagrass helps lower the acidification of the water, which in turn helps shellfish.

Florida's new chief science officer started off as a surfer dude

Florida's new chief science officer didn't start out as a scientist. Instead he was a surfer dude.

Thomas Frazer, named to the post created by Gov. Ron DeSantis last month, was born and raised in the quintessential surf city of San Diego. When he was 8, he bought his first board — a Lightning Bolt — and spent as much time riding the waves as he could.

That's what led him to become an expert on water pollution.

"It seemed like I was on the water every day," he told an interviewer in 2016. "When you are a surfer, you learn about water quality at an early age. You know that when you get an earache after surfing, that it is probably because of runoff."

Frazer, 54, is the director of the University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment and has a Ph.D. in biological science from the University of California. He will continue to hold that $176,775-a-year position while also occupying the $148,000-a-year science officer post. Experts say it appears to be the first such state-level position in the nation.

New EPA document tells communities to brace for climate change impacts

The Environmental Protection Agency published a 150-page document this past week with a straightforward message for coping with the fallout from natural disasters across the country: Start planning for the fact that climate change is going to make these catastrophes worse.

The language, included in guidance on how to address the debris left in the wake of floods, hurricanes and wildfires, is at odds with the rhetoric of the EPA’s own leader, Andrew Wheeler. Just last month, Wheeler said in an interview with CBS that “most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out.”

Multiple recent studies have identified how climate change is already affecting the United States and the globe. In the western United States, for example, regional temperatures have increased by almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970s, and snowmelt is occurring a month earlier in areas, extending the fire season by three months and quintupling the number of large fires. Another scientific paper, co-authored by EPA researchers, found that unless the United States slashes carbon emissions, climate change will probably cost the United States hundreds of billions of dollars annually by 2100.

Aquaculture Braintrust Farms clams in Florida’s Tampa Bay

In the midst of a Florida field beseeched with palmettos and pines, Two Docks Shellfish is not your typical Gulf aquaculture business. A lawyer, a PhD, a Master and a biologist comprise the brain trust running the successful Bradenton clamming and oyster aquaculture operation.

Aaron Welch, III comes from a long line of Aarons. He and his father, Aaron Welch, Jr., started the clamming operations in 2014 after he attended a seminar featuring a session on aquaculture.

“After serving for five years as the navigation officer aboard a US Navy guided missile destroyer, I got out of the military searching for a direction to my life,” he said sitting in the companies office housed in metal outbuilding. “I attended a session with a speaker talking about aquaculture. I was just blown away. I sitting at the back of the room, I got up and made my way to the front. I got out of that presentation and called my wife and said, ‘I know what I am going to do with my life.’”

The speaker was University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science Professor Daniel Benetti. Already a graduate of Emory University Law School, Welch went on to study aquaculture under Benetti where he received his Ph.D.

Turn out the lights, it's nesting season for Florida sea turtles

May marks the beginning of sea turtle nesting season on many of Florida’s sandy beaches. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is asking beachfront property owners and beach visitors to help nesting turtles and hatchlings by turning off or shielding lights that are visible from the beach at night.

 “Making an effort to keep our beaches dark at night is one of the most important things you can do to help sea turtles.” said Robbin Trindell, head of the FWC sea turtle management program. “Even small artificial lights from a house, a flashlight or a cellphone camera can confuse female sea turtles and their hatchlings and cause them to wander off course.”

Sea turtle nesting is starting now on beaches along the Gulf coast, including the Florida Panhandle, as well as the state’s northeast Atlantic coast and from Miami-Dade County south to the Keys. Nesting began earlier in March along Florida’s southeast Atlantic coast from Brevard County south to Broward County.

Florida is a critically important destination for nesting sea turtles. More loggerhead turtles nest here than anywhere else in the continental United States, with 91,451 loggerhead nests counted statewide during the 2018 nesting season. Leatherback and green sea turtles also nest in significant numbers in Florida.

Study demonstrates seagrass' strong potential for curbing erosion

Most people’s experience with seagrass, if any, amounts to little more than a tickle on their ankles while wading in shallow coastal waters. But it turns out these ubiquitous plants, varieties of which exist around the world, could play a key role in protecting vulnerable shores as they face onslaughts from rising sea levels.

New research for the first time quantifies, through experiments and mathematical modelling, just how large and how dense a continuous meadow of seagrass must be to provide adequate damping of waves in a given geographic, climatic, and oceanographic setting.

In a pair of papers appearing in the May issues of two research journals, Coastal Engineering and the Journal of Fluids and Structures, MIT professor of civil and environmental engineering Heidi Nepf and doctoral student Jiarui Lei describe their findings and the significant environmental benefits seagrass offers. These include not only preventing beach erosion and protecting seawalls and other structures, but also improving water quality and sequestering carbon to help limit future climate change.

It’s all at sea: new clues to coastal erosion

New research has uncovered a missing nutrient source in coastal oceans, which could promote better water quality and sand management on popular beaches.

While the release of nutrients buried in the seabed ‘feeds’ coastal marine ecosystems, the latest research at Flinders University has found a new physical mechanism which erodes seabed sediment at depths up to 20 metres, well outside (between 10km and 20km) from the surf zone closer to shore.

This powerful natural process that is energetic enough to erode seabed sediment at up to 20 m, also adds to the nutrients stirred and moved by breaking surface waves nearer the beach, according to the new hydrodynamic modelling.

“This new knowledge has significant implications for coastal sediment management practices such as dredging,” says Flinders University oceanographer Associate Professor Jochen Kaempf.

County moves forward with stormwater funding mechanism

 The Manatee County Commission moved forward this week with a long-discussed stormwater tax/fee by authorizing the public works department to engage in a stormwater rate study.

Chad Butzow, Manatee County's interim director of public works. told commissioners that the study would:

  • Fully measure impervious areas to get definitive answers on all non-single family lots
  • Provide accurate determination of the total number of equivalent residential units in unincorporated Manatee County
  • Analyze the cost impacts of areas that have stormwater systems/private roads

The department would then present the results of the study to the BOCC before proceeding with drafting and implementing ordinances. Butzow stressed that conducting the would not obligate the board to implement its findings.

Ron DeSantis announces newly-formed Blue-Green Algae Task Force

Gov. Ron DeSantis has placed a special emphasis on Florida's environment since taking office, and Monday was one more step in the direction to clean up the state's waterways.

At the Nathaniel P. Reed Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, DeSantis named the five members of the state's newly-formed Blue-Green Algae Task Force.

"The focus of this task force is to support key funding and restoration initiatives and make recommendations to expedite nutrient reductions in Lake Okeechobee and downstream estuaries," DeSantis said. 

Highland Shores boat ramp closes for one month

Highland Shores boat ramp will close Monday for about one month while crews dredge the navigational channel connecting the boat ramp basin to the Manatee River. Weather permitting, the boat ramp will reopen to the public by the end of May.

Highland Shores is located at 353 Shore Drive in Ellenton. The project is being coordinated with the West Coast Inland Navigation District. During the Highland Shores closure boaters can use the County's other boat ramps located throughout the County.

For more information on Manatee County Government, visit www.mymanatee.org or call (941) 748-4501. You can also follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/manatee.county.fl and on Twitter, @ManateeGov.