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

Water-Related News

Photographer: Inland development is destroying Florida–s coastal freshwater wetlands

The object of Benjamin Dimmitt's pictorial and editorial attention has deteriorated significantly over the last few decades.

With the exception of its northern border with Alabama and Georgia, Florida is entirely surrounded by water. The state’s world famous sandy beaches make up about 825 miles of that coastline, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. But wetlands comprise several hundred more miles of the Florida coast. And contrary to popular belief, the majority of those wetlands are not salt water, but fresh water. Their source is the outflow from the gigantic Floridan Aquifer that underlies Florida. But as Florida’s population has grown, the size and condition of those wetlands seems to be on the decline. That’s the subject of a new book by noted naturalist and photographer Benjamin Dimmitt. It’s entitled: “An Unflinching Look: Elegy for Wetlands.” In it he documents – in both words and images – the profound changes in the Chassahowitzka National Refuge on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Quick Point Nature Preserve gets boardwalk repairs, new signage

One of Longboat Key’s final frontiers of undeveloped land, Quick Point Nature Preserve, is a hidden gem — and in need of a site refresh.

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program recently began the site refresh in the Longboat Key preserve, which is part of a larger goal of enhancing three parks across Manatee and Sarasota counties: Quick Point, Sarasota Bay Walk on City Island and Leffis Key Preserve.

Quick Point is a 34-acre restoration site located on the southern tip of Longboat Key, easily accessible by residents of the Key and Sarasota.

“Longboat Key is so heavily developed,” SBEP Operations Manager Heather Moody said. “To actually be able to get out in nature and enjoy an unobstructed view of the Bay like that is definitely unique.”

Moody has been with the organization for a little over two years. When the three refresh projects were brought up, Moody said it was the perfect fit for her background in environmental education and park management.

The Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation was the primary donors for Quick Point’s site refresh, granting $25,000 for the project. The SBEP contributed $23,000 from their funds as well.

Invasive grass species threatens Braden River ecosystem

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission uses liquid copper to rid the Braden River of tape grass, an aquatic plant that could dominate native vegetation and damage wildlife.

Standing at a dock at Jiggs Landing last week, Denise Kleiner grabbed a fishing net, and poked its handle into the water of the Bill Evers Reservoir.

She pulled the handle out of the water, and it was covered by a large clump of what many of us would call seaweed. It was a big ball of dripping, grass-like goo.

"There is some of it there," Kleiner said, pointing at a few different spots on the gooey ball.

Kleiner, the general manager of the Jiggs Landing Preserve and president of Florida Boat Tours, was pointing out what she called eelgrass, or the Old World Tape Grass that currently is plaguing the Braden River. They are very similar and yet dangerously different.

While eelgrass is generally considered an aquatic plant that is native to the state, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is on the lookout for Old World Tape Grass.

Florida Fish and Game has sent biologists and other employees on a regular basis to launch boats at Jiggs Landing to travel up and down the Braden River looking for the invasive plant. On a wall next to the rest rooms as you enter Jiggs Landing is somewhat of a wanted poster with the headline "Invasive Plant Advisory."

USF’s ‘Flood Hub’ is helping the state look into resiliency needs

Resilience in the face of increasingly extreme weather is on the minds this week of those attending the annual Gulf of Mexico Alliance Conference in Tampa. And much of the work on resiliency will be done at the University of South Florida.

Many of us have heard the warnings about coastal flooding increasing because of strengthening storms and hurricanes. But before work can be done to address resilience in the face of these threats, we have to know what roads, buildings and utilities are at risk.

That's where the new Florida Flood Hub comes in. It was recently established at the USF College of Marine Science in St. Petersburg.

Once it is fully operational, Wes Brooks - Florida's chief resilience officer - says the hub will identify what's most vulnerable to flooding statewide.

“I believe that Florida will be the first state in the country - and certainly the largest for some time, I would suspect - to have assessed the flood vulnerability of virtually every single piece of infrastructure and critical asset that there is with the state's borders,” Brooks said.

Brooks told conference members that the hub will be a central repository for flood models and information.

“Once fully operational, the flood hub will also provide a statewide picture of flood risk in a clear and consistent manner that can be used for transparent and fair decision making,” he said, “while also significantly lowering the technical burden on local governments - like here in Tampa - to incorporate forward-looking flood data and municipal planning.”

Brooks adds that more than 230 planning grants have been awarded to counties and cities throughout the state.

Speakers at the conference also said the work will become critical as extreme weather becomes the "new normal."

Report: Florida received D– in coastal management and sea level rise preparations

The Surfrider Foundation took a look at how states are preparing for sea level rise, erosion and future infrastructure.

Florida's beaches span hundreds of miles, providing entertainment and an escape for folks to relax.

But our coastlines are under nearly constant threat, and according to a new report by The Surfrider Foundation, our beaches are degrading more and more every year.

The Surfrider Foundation took a look at how states are preparing for sea level rise, erosion, and future infrastructure.

The foundation's latest report shows that Florida decreased from a C– in 2022 to a D– in 2023 for these categories.

Local scientists attribute the issues to rising sea levels and more intense storms.

The Tampa Bay Climate Science Advisory panel predicts that the Tampa Bay Area could experience sea level rise of up to 2.5 feet by 2050.

"We have choices to adapt or to maladapt," said Maya Burke with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

Crucial system of ocean currents is heading for a collapse due to climate change

A vital system of ocean currents could collapse within a few decades if the world continues to pump out planet-heating pollution, scientists are warning – an event that would be catastrophic for global weather and “affect every person on the planet.”

A new study published Tuesday in the journal Nature, found that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current – of which the Gulf Stream is a part – could collapse around the middle of the century, or even as early as 2025.

Scientists uninvolved with this study told CNN the exact tipping point for the critical system is uncertain, and that measurements of the currents have so far showed little trend or change. But they agreed these results are alarming and provide new evidence that the tipping point could occur sooner than previously thought.

The AMOC is a complex tangle of currents that works like a giant global conveyor belt. It transports warm water from the tropics toward the North Atlantic, where the water cools, becomes saltier and sinks deep into the ocean, before spreading southwards.

It plays a crucial role in the climate system, helping regulate global weather patterns. Its collapse would have enormous implications, including much more extreme winters and sea level rises affecting parts of Europe and the US, and a shifting of the monsoon in the tropics.

Spanish Main Yacht Club installs $1M of potable water pipes

The new, more resilient system took 10 years of work and was completely funded by the Longboat Key condominium.

Chairman of the Water Committee Tom Freiwald said Spanish Main Yacht Club was a 55-plus community in both the age of its residents and potable water lines.

Due to repeated system failures, the Spanish Main Yacht Club had to replace its potable water lines, which were original to the condominium's construction in 1966.

“This is the biggest infrastructure project, by far, we’ve ever attempted,” Freiwald said. He was involved with the project from early on.

The new water lines cost about $1 million and took about 10 years altogether.

On Feb. 7, board members of the condominium marked the official completion of the project, in a celebration for the entire community.

Members of the community were the ones who lived through years of water issues and showed support. The project involved every one of the 212 units and over 400 residents.

“This was unanimous that we had to do this from the very beginning,” Freiwald said.

Ferry service adds new Bridge Street Pier stop

Manatee County logo

MANATEE COUNTY – The Gulf Islands Ferry will expand service to the historic Bridge Street pier in the City of Bradenton Beach starting Friday, February 9, barring any inclement weather.

This stop is in addition to the existing ferry stops: the day dock in downtown Bradenton and Anna Maria City Pier.

“The time is now to add the historic Bridge Street Pier in the City of Bradenton Beach to our route map that will allow our passengers to enjoy the unique shops and restaurants on Bridge Street,” said Elliott Falcione, Executive Director of the Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “This landing will also be in walking distance to the free trolley system and our beautiful sugar-white sand beaches.”

Visitors and residents can catch a ride on the water Friday through Sunday from 9 a.m.- 9 p.m. with departures every hour, on the hour. Ride times on the water are approximately 30-35 minutes each way. The two catamarans hold 49 passengers and will have two crew aboard to ensure smooth transport to and from each port.

“This is another vital step to continue enhancing multi-modal transportation in our community,” said Manatee County District 3 Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge.

For up-to-date information on run times, ticket information and scheduling, riders can contact Customer Service for the Ferry at (941) 357-2587 (voice) or (727) 200-6487 (text).

Current run times and scheduling can still be found at gulfislandsferry.com.

New NASA mission could help Lake Okeechobee, red tide in Florida

CAPE CANAVERAL – NASA will be taking images of bodies of water on Earth and using that information and data to predict how healthy, or unhealthy, water surfaces are.

NASA is elevating what it means to take photos of Earth. The newly launched satellite is a game-changer, according to the agency.

They’ll be taking images of bodies of water, and that information and data will then be used to predict how healthy, or unhealthy, water surfaces are.

The program is called PACE, which stands for Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud ocean Ecosystem mission.

“PACE is going to see earth in a way we’ve never seen before, in so many different colors,” Ivona Cetinic, an oceanographer with NASA’s PACE, said. “I’m hoping this data will get to everybody and help them understand how beautiful our home planet is.”

NASA said this will enhance how they study water and the environment, including algae blooms and red tide, which are issues found in South Florida.

Tara Elementary students learn about water conservation

Kassy Palacios, a fifth grader at Tara Elementary School, grabbed a bottle and began to spray the watershed model in front of her.

She and some of her classmates used the spray bottles to simulate rain. They watched as the water washed away the spices that represented fertilizer, pesticides, excrement and oil. It all flowed into the body of water that represented Lake Manatee.

Before their eyes, they saw the water change color from the impacts of what represented the pollutants and contaminants.

Although it was a plastic model with toy vehicles, houses, trees and buildings, the students were able to see the potential real-world impacts of how pollutants and contaminants can impact a local water source.

The model was a part of a presentation from Manatee County Utilities on water conservation and its importance.

Tina Moutoux, a water conservation outreach specialist with Manatee County Utilities, said the model helps students see how small actions can impact water sources.

LBK’s Sleepy Lagoon residents urge higher priority for drainage improvement

Longboat Key drainage projects are on the way, but the first won't begin construction until 2025.

Flooding isn’t a new issue on Longboat Key, but some on the island's North End say that houses flooding is a new problem that's only getting worse.

That’s what led the Sleepy Lagoon Homeowners Board and Drainage Committee to send a letter to the town, urging for a more consolidated effort for the drainage improvements the town has planned.

“Peoples’ houses are actually flooding, that’s a fairly new phenomenon,” John Connolly, president of the Sleepy Lagoon HOA, said. “The streets are flooding, but that’s not a new phenomenon whatsoever.”

The town has projects on the agenda to improve drainage in key areas like the Village, Sleepy Lagoon and Buttonwood. But those projects will be completed in phases, and the soonest construction date is early 2025.

While much of the timeline is dependent on grants, the Sleepy Lagoon representatives feel the projects could be more consolidated in order to push things forward quicker.

The projects, though, won’t be an end to all flooding.

“We’re really talking about the rain and the tides, not the hurricanes,” drainage committee member Blythe Jeffers said.

UCF researchers estimate cost to tourism of 2018 red tide at $2.7 billion

A new study from the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management has found that the loss to tourism-related businesses due to the 2018 Florida red tide bloom is estimated at approximately $2.7 billion.

The research, performed in collaboration with the University of South Florida and Florida A&M University, was recently published in the Journal of Environmental Management. The work offers a profound understanding of the economic impacts of harmful algae blooms (HABs) on Florida’s tourism sector.

One of the most striking conclusions of the study is the relationship between the severity of red tide blooms and their economic impact on tourism.

Contrary to expectations, the study reveals that low concentrations of red tide can have disproportionate economic impacts compared to more intense blooms.

This finding underscores the importance of how red tide information is communicated and perceived, influencing its economic fallout.

“The magnitude of losses from red tide show how important it is for the Federal and State governments to allocate appropriate resources for response and recovery to harmful algae blooms in our coastal communities,” says Sergio Alvarez, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor at Rosen College.

“In addition, coastal tourism businesses should consider harmful algae as a very real risk to the economic sustainability of their operations,” he says. “It is essential that we find appropriate risk management tools for individuals, businesses, and communities that may suffer the economic impacts of harmful algae blooms.”