Water-Related News

Expedition retraces a legendary explorer’s travels through the once-pristine Everglades

Changes in water quality will be an important facet of the expedition

In 1897, the explorer and amateur scientist Hugh de Laussat Willoughby climbed into a canoe and embarked on a coast-to-coast expedition of the Florida Everglades, a wilderness then nearly as vast as the peninsula itself and as unknown, he wrote, as the “heart of Africa.”

Willoughby and his guide were the first non-Native Americans to traverse the Everglades from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, and Willoughby’s meticulous notes, charts and water samples would form the basis of scientists’ historical understanding of the legendary “river of grass.”

Now a new expedition has retraced his trek, with the goal of measuring the impact of modern humanity on a watershed that today is among the most altered on Earth and responsible for the drinking water of some 12 million Floridians.

The expedition also commemorates the 75th anniversary of Everglades National Park, which was dedicated on Dec. 6, 1947.

“We think we will see the full spectrum, from one of the most remote parts of the continental United States to one of the most urbanized parts of the United States – all in one watershed, all in one trip,” said Harvey Oyer, co-leader of the four-member expedition and the author of a series of children’s books about the historical Florida frontier. “That, I think more than anything else, will illustrate humanity’s impact from the time of Willoughby to today.”

Willoughby’s thorough work provides a tantalizing opportunity to compare conditions in the Everglades then and now. Traveling the region’s rivers and canals over six days and some 130 miles, Oyer and the team drew water samples from the same spots as Willoughby, according to coordinates he documented, sometimes from some of the most remote and hard-to-reach parts of the subtropical region.

The water samples are being analyzed at the University of Florida for the same constituents that Willoughby examined, such as magnesium and sulfates, along with nutrients now known to affect the Everglades like phosphorus and nitrogen.

The samples are also being tested for modern pollutants like microplastics, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), pesticides and pharmaceuticals. It will be a few months before the analysis is complete. The team wrapped u

How floating wetlands are helping to clean up urban waters

As cities around the world look to rid their waterways of remaining pollution, researchers are installing artificial islands brimming with grasses and sedges. The islands’ surfaces attract wildlife, while the underwater plant roots absorb contaminants and support aquatic life.

Floating wetlands were first tested in retention ponds, the kind often located near developments to hold stormwater, to see if they filtered pollution. “The front end of it was, ‘Will they work? How well do they work? And what plants should we recommend?’” says Sarah White, an environmental toxicologist and horticulturalist at Clemson University who has worked on floating wetlands since 2006. Partnering with researchers at Virginia Tech, White found that the wetland plants she tested not only did well in ponds with lots of nutrient pollution, but the adaptable, resilient plants actually thrived. She did not always choose native plants, opting instead for those that would make the islands more attractive, so that more urban planners would use them.

Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council releases comprehensive climate change plan

The main objectives of the plan are 11 goals that include everything from strengthening local infrastructure to increasing sustainability.

The region's first comprehensive plan to prepare for the effects of climate change has been released. Now, it's up to local governments to take action.

It's called the Regional Resiliency Action Plan. Included in it are 72 pages of recommendations on how the community can adapt to extreme heat, rising seas and other effects of climate change that are expected.

The main objectives are 11 goals that include everything from strengthening local infrastructure to increasing sustainability.

Sean Sullivan is the executive director of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. It released the plan along with 32 members representing local governments in counties from Citrus south to Sarasota.

He said the group has agreed to use accepted science as a baseline for their recommendations.

"We've tried to do with this plan is to show, in fact, that if we agree on, say, a baseline scientific approach, it just makes simple sense despite which side of the aisle you're on," he said. "And then when we brought that approach to our elected officials — and on the Regional Planning Council, there are 27 elected officials and 11 appointed officials — and then three extra officials, they essentially have agreed that the using science makes sense."

"We know our climate is warming. We had the warmest summer on record in the Tampa Bay region this past summer. We had more days over 90 (degrees) than any other summer on record," he said.

FWC Harmful Algal Bloom Grant Program funds three projects

FWC logo

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’s Harmful Algal Bloom Grant Program has awarded funding to three projects to address research related to Karenia brevis. The HAB Grant Program supports projects that address recommendations of the HAB Task Force.

Title: Composite Red Tide Vulnerability Index (CRTVI): Assessing and communicating vulnerability of coastal communities to Red Tide in Florida

Principal Investigator: Christa D. Court, University of Florida

Co-Principal Investigators: Lisa Krimsky, Angie Lindsey, Andrew Ropicki and Ricky Telg, University of Florida; David Yoskowitz, Harte Research Institute

Summary: This project leverages recent research results quantifying the socioeconomic, health and environmental impacts of red tide events to develop a Composite Red Tide Vulnerability Index that can quantify the vulnerability of coastal communities in Florida to the impacts of red tide events. The CRTVI can increase general awareness and be used as an objective criterion to help decision-makers both identify areas that are more vulnerable to impacts stemming from red tide events and design systems to better prepare for, respond to and mitigate red tide event impacts.

Award: $295,304, January 2023-June 2024

View Abstract »

Title: Developing a Physical-Biological Model of Karenia brevis Red Tide for the West Florida Shelf

Principal Investigator: Yonggang Liu, University of South Florida

Summary: This project partners the University of South Florida Ocean Circulation Lab with FWRI HAB Researchers to develop a physical-biological model of Karenia brevis red tide for the West Florida Shelf, with a long-term goal of being able to simulate and forecast red tide.

Award: $299,349, January 2023-June 2024

View Abstract »

Title: A land-based shellfish depuration mitigation strategy to increase business opportunities and reduce economic losses associated with extended lease closures following red tide exposure

Principal Investigator: Dana Wetzel, Mote Marine Laboratory

Co-Principal Investigators: Tracy Sherwood, Mote Marine Laboratory

Summary: This project aims to develop feasible land-based depuration protocols that allow shellfish farmers in red tide-impacted regions to have the chance to regain their crops and thereby sustain shellfish production.

Award: $246,326, January 2023-June 2024

View Abstract »

Petition urges USFWS protect Florida manatees as endangered

Calling declines in Florida's manatee population “dramatic” a coalition of groups have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to increase protections for the aquatic mammal.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic, Miami Waterkeeper, Save the Manatee Club and Frank S. González García filed the petition Monday. The petition urges the federal wildlife agency to reclassify the species from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

"Since the service prematurely reduced protections in 2017, the species has declined dramatically," a release from the groups about the petition said.

According to information provided by the groups, pollution-fueled algae blooms sparked an ongoing mortality event that killed more than 1,110 Florida manatees in 2021 alone -- 19 percent of the Atlantic population and 13 percent of all manatees in Florida.

The deaths continued this year, the groups said, with 726 manatees dying through October. Manatee experts predict that the high levels of malnourished and starving manatees will continue throughout the winter.

“West Indian manatees from Florida to the Caribbean are facing drastic threats from habitat loss, boat strikes, pollution, climate change and toxic algae blooms," said Ben Rankin, a student attorney at the Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic. “The restoration of full Endangered Species Act protections is an essential first step in conserving this species everywhere it is found.”

Red tide is drifting north and is now at the mouth of Tampa Bay

High concentrations of the organism that causes red tide has been found in Southwest Florida since Hurricane Ian made landfall. Now, it's slowly moving north.

Red tide is drifting north along the Gulf coast from Southwest Florida and is now being found at the mouth of Tampa Bay.

Red tide, which has been found off the coast of Manatee and Sarasota counties, is inching north. Water samples taken this week by state environmental officials show very low concentrations of the organism that causes red tide was detected along the Sunshine Skyway and the northern tip of Anna Maria Island, where Tampa Bay meets the Gulf of Mexico.

Medium to high concentrations were found along every beach in southern Manatee and Sarasota counties. State officials had issued a health advisory warning last week for all beaches in Sarasota, warning people about respiratory irritation and dead fish.

This week, that warning was extended to beaches in Manatee County, including Bayfront Park, Coquina Beach South, Longboat Pass/Coquina Boat Ramp and the Rod and Reel Pier on Anna Maria Island.

High concentrations have been found south of Sarasota since Hurricane Ian struck in September.

People with respiratory problems should stay away from the water. Residents living along the beach should close their windows and run air conditioning.

Hillsborough purchases land along the Little Manatee River for preservation

Hillsborough seal

Commissioners voted to buy a 487-acre ranch, creating a continuous corridor of preserved land along the Little Manatee River.

Hillsborough County commissioners this week voted to buy a tract of land that will create a continuous corridor of preserved land along the Little Manatee River.

The purchase is the latest in a series of land acquisitions along the largely undeveloped river.

Commissioners unanimously agreed to purchase the 487-acre ranch. It borders the Little Manatee River.

The money — about $11 million — will come through ELAPP, the county's Environmental Land Acquisition and Protection Program.

Commissioner Stacy White has been part of a team working on buying the ranch, and says it will connect to large preserved areas just to the south in Manatee County.

"With all of the open land and preserved land in northern Manatee County, we can really connect some wildlife corridors that begin to have a true regional impact," White said.

It will be adjacent to a 79-acre sod farm purchased by the county in September as part of an expanded preserve along the river.

Commissioner Mariella Smith nominated the former cattle ranch for purchase through the ELAPP program before she joined the board.

"This parcel connects other preserves, making a huge wildlife corridor from the upper Little Manatee River south, past the county line, to some other preserves in Manatee County," Smith said.

Smith said this is a critical step in getting the federal government to declare the Little Manatee a "Wild and Scenic River," which would give added protection to the area.

Health Advisory issued for Davis Island Beach due to high bacteria levels

FDOH logo

TAMPA – The Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County has issued a public health advisory for Simmons Park Beach due to high bacteria levels. This should be considered a potential risk to the bathing public, and swimming is not recommended. Samples taken, were above the threshold for enterococci bacteria. The beach will be re-sampled in a week.

When re-sampling indicates that the water is within the satisfactory range, the advisory will be lifted.

An advisory is issued when the beach action value is 70.5 or higher. This is set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County has been conducting coastal beach water quality monitoring at nine sites once every two weeks since August 2000, and weekly since August 5, 2002, through the Healthy Beaches Monitoring Program.

The water samples are being analyzed for enteric bacteria (enterococci) that normally inhabit the intestinal tract of humans and animals, which may cause human disease, infections, or rashes. The presence of enteric bacteria is an indication of fecal pollution, which may come from stormwater runoff, pets and wildlife, and human sewage. The purpose of the Healthy Beaches Monitoring Program is to determine whether Florida has significant coastal beach water quality problems.

Please visit the Florida Department of Health's Beach Water Quality website. To review the beach water sampling results for reporting counties, click on a county name.

Photos show contaminated water plaguing southwest Florida

TAMPA – Aerial photos revealed massive plumes of red tide stretching along much of southwest Florida’s coast days after Tropical Storm Nicole passed over the state.

Photos released by Calusa Waterkeeper showed a deep reddish-brown discoloration of the water near Naples and Sanibel due to the presence of red tide “and other phytoplankton species,” the non-profit organization said in a Facebook post.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, beaches from Sarasota to Port Charlotte vary between low, medium, and high levels of red tide.

The harmful algal blooms are commonly known to cause mild and short-lived respiratory symptoms in humans such as eye, nose, and throat irritation like those associated with the common cold or seasonal sinus allergies, the Florida Department of Health said.

Blooms are also known to last for months, depending on wind conditions.

New website dedicated to tracking Piney Point’s progress now available

The site contains various documents and updates that will offer full transparency on the progress as part of the closure plan.

MANATEE COUNTY – A new website dedicated to tracking the progress at Piney Point is now available.

The site contains various documents and updates which will offer full transparency on the progress as part of the closure plan.

While Hurricane Ian did add a lot of damage to the area, officials say the plan is still on track.

"You'll find all of my status report all the progress reports also a lot of photographs of what we've done out here, a lot of photographs to show that the wildlife is coming back to Piney Point," Herbert Donica, a court-appointed receiver, said.

In March of this year, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection approved the conceptual closure plan prepared by the site's court-appointed receiver — a huge milestone in the state's journey to close its chapter on the wastewater emergency and its lasting effects.

In March 2021, a tear in one of the former Piney Point facility's reservoirs caused concern over a potential collapse. In order to prevent a crisis, crews discharged more than 200 million gallons of untreated wastewater into Tampa Bay.

The first phase of the closure plan involves stockpiling dirt to close the gypsum stacks. Right now they’re reshaping one of the stacks, so it drains to the west into the stormwater management program. Once that's complete, topsoil and vegetation will be added. It’s a process that needs to be completed in a timely manner.

FWC reminds owners unable to salvage their storm-damaged vessels that waivers are still available

FWC logo

Vessel owners have until 45 days after Ian crossed the state to get their vessels out of derelict condition. The end of the grace period is Nov. 15.

Owners are encouraged to hire a salvage company to recover their vessel to provide the safest method possible for the vessel and the environment. If they are unable to salvage their vessels, lack the resources to have their boat repaired or if their vessel is determined to be beyond repair, they may release ownership of their vessel.

Waivers are available for removal and destruction and owners will not be charged for any removal costs. This process can be initiated by contacting the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) through the Hurricane Ian Vessel Hotline at 850-488-5600 and requesting to turn over a derelict vessel. An FWC representative will then contact the owner to explain the waiver process and facilitate the potential turnover of ownership.

To date, the FWC has received approximately 50 waivers from affected boat owners in the Lee County area.

If a derelict vessel is not brought into compliance or removed from the water by Nov. 15, it will be treated as any other derelict vessel. At this time, the FWC will not be charging displaced vessel owners with a criminal violation of Florida law but the decision to hold vessel owners responsible for removal, destruction and disposal costs could be made at a future date.

FWC officers continue to work tirelessly with partner agencies to assess vessels displaced by Hurricane Ian. Over 3,000 vessels have been assessed and research teams are contacting owners and insurance companies to provide information, guidance and reunite vessel owners with their property.

We have water and land-based teams assessing vessels. If your vessel is missing or you have located a vessel on state waters displaced by the hurricane, please report it to our Hurricane Ian Vessel Hotline: 850-488-5600. For all other vessels, the Division of Emergency Management has established a hotline for vessel and property owners at 850-961-2002. for vessels on land.

Public safety remains the number one priority at the FWC. The FWC would like to remind the public that officers a

Red tide conditions return to Southwest Florida

FWC logo

Current Conditions – Nov. 9th, 2022

The red tide organism, Karenia brevis, was detected in Southwest Florida. Over the past week, K. brevis was observed in 50 samples. Bloom concentrations (>100,000 cells/liter) were present in 15 samples: seven in Sarasota County and eight in and offshore of Charlotte County. Additional details are provided below.
  • In Southwest Florida over the past week, K. brevis was observed at background to low concentrations offshore of Hillsborough County, background concentrations in Manatee County, background to high concentrations in and offshore of Sarasota County, very low to high concentrations in and offshore of Charlotte County, very low and low concentrations in Lee County, and low concentrations offshore of Collier County.
  • Reports of fish kills suspected to be related to red tide were received over the past week in Southwest Florida in Sarasota, Charlotte, and Lee counties. For more details, please visit: https://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/health/fish-kills-hotline/.
  • Respiratory irritation suspected to be related to red tide was reported over the past week in Southwest Florida in Sarasota, Charlotte, and Lee counties. Additional details are provided in the Southwest Coast report. For recent and current information at individual beaches, please visit https://visitbeaches.org/ and for forecasts that use FWC and partner data, please visit https://habforecast.gcoos.org/.
Forecasts by the USF-FWC Collaboration for Prediction of Red Tides for Pinellas County to northern Monroe County predict net western movement of surface waters and net southeastern transport of subsurface waters in most areas over the next 3.5 days.

Due to the upcoming holiday, the next complete status report will be issued on Thursday, November 10th. Please check our daily sampling map, which can be accessed via the online status report on our Red Tide Current Status page. For more information on algal blooms and water quality, please visit Protecting Florida Together.

This information, including maps and reports with additional details, is also available on the FWRI Red Tide website. The website also provides links to additional information related to the topic of Florida red tide including satellite imagery, experimental red tide forecasts, shellfish harvesting areas, the FWC Fish Kill Hotline, the Florida Poison Information Center (to report human health effects related to exposure to red tide), and other wildlife related hotlines.

To learn more about various organisms that have been known to cause algal blooms in Florida waters, see the FWRI Red Tide Flickr page. Archived status maps can also be found on Flickr.

The FWRI HAB group in conjunction with Mote Marine Laboratory now have a Facebook page. Please like our page and learn interesting facts concerning red tide and other harmful algal blooms in Florida.

Health Advisory Issued for SIMMONS PARK BEACH Due to High Bacteria Levels

FDOH logo

TAMPA – The Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County has issued a public health advisory for Simmons Park Beach due to high bacteria levels. This should be considered a potential risk to the bathing public, and swimming is not recommended. Samples taken showed that the level of enterococci bacteria was above acceptable the threshold. The beach will be re-sampled in a week.

When re-sampling indicates that the water is within the satisfactory range, the advisory will be lifted.

About Health Advisory for High Bacteria Levels

An advisory is issued when the beach action value is 70.5 or higher. This is set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County has been conducting coastal beach water quality monitoring at nine sites once every two weeks since August 2000, and weekly since August 5, 2002 through the Healthy Beaches Monitoring Program.

The water samples are being analyzed for enteric bacteria (enterococci) that normally inhabit the intestinal tract of humans and animals, which may cause human disease, infections, or rashes. The presence of enteric bacteria is an indication of fecal pollution, which may come from storm water runoff, pets and wildlife, and human sewage. The purpose of the Healthy Beaches Monitoring Program is to determine whether Florida has significant coastal beach water quality problems.

Please visit the Florida Department of Health's Beach Water Quality website. To review the beach water sampling results for reporting counties, click on a county name.

SWFWMD recognizes 35th anniversary of SWIM program

The Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board recently recognized the 35th anniversary of the District’s Surface Water Improvement and Management, or SWIM program, and its vital contributions to the region’s water resources. SWIM Program manager Vivianna Bendixson explains the positive impacts the program has made on major water bodies in the region.

Q: What is the SWIM Program?

A: The Surface Water Improvement and Management or SWIM Program evaluates priority water bodies, identifies issues and drivers, and implements projects to improve water quality and habitat. In 1987, the Florida Legislature established the SWIM Act to protect, maintain, and restore Florida’s surface water bodies. The Act required the five water management districts to identify and select a list of priority water bodies of statewide significance within their boundaries and develop programs to improve them. With the help of state agencies, local governments and other organizations, the SWIM Program focuses on water quality and natural systems restoration projects to accomplish these initiatives.

Q: What are the District’s priority water bodies?

A: Currently, the District’s 12 SWIM priority water bodies include: Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay, Charlotte Harbor, Weeki Wachee River, Chassahowitzka River, Homosassa River, Rainbow River, Crystal River/Kings Bay, Lake Panasoffkee, Lake Tarpon, Lake Thonotosassa and the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes. The list of priority water bodies is updated every five years. The last update was approved in 2020.

FWC assessing thousands of ‘displaced’ vessels in the wake of Ian

FWC logo

FWC continues to assess thousands of vessels 1 month after Hurricane Ian landfall

Hurricane Ian displaced over 7,000 vessels on both land and water. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has deployed a second wave of officers to join local FWC personnel and partner agencies in assessing these vessels. Since the assessment process began, the FWC has received hundreds of calls on its Hurricane Ian Vessel Hotline (850-488-5600) and has assessed over 2,100 vessels displaced on state waters Research teams are contacting owners and insurance companies to provide information, guidance and reunite vessel owners with their property.

“Wave One of the FWC Displaced Vessel Deployment Team returned home after a very productive two weeks in the field. This group of 16 dedicated officers worked long hours on the waters of Lee County, locating derelict vessels and contacting owners. Wave Two is now in place and will carry on with the mission,” said FWC Boating and Waterways Section Representative Capt. Travis Franklin. “I’m proud of the work accomplished by these officers as they help reunite owners with their boats, while facilitating the removal of derelict vessels from our waterways.”

This week, Governor Ron DeSantis announced efforts to expedite identifying and removing vessels and debris from the area affected by Hurricane Ian. The FWC is working closely with the Division of Emergency Management, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Coast Guard and local governments to identify and remove vessels and other debris from waterways and upland private and commercial properties. The newly created State Debris Cleanup Program will assist Hurricane Ian survivors with the removal of displaced and abandoned titled property. Residents can request the removal of debris including vehicles, vessels, motorcycles, trailers and ATVs. To make a request, visit IanDebrisCleanup.com to report the presence of debris.

Owners of derelict vessels who lack the resources to have their boat repaired, or if their vessel is determined to be beyond repair, may release ownership of their vessel. This process can be initiated by contacting the FWC through the Hurricane Ian Vessel Hotline at 850-488-5600 and requesting to turn over a derelict vessel. An FWC representative will then contact the owner to explain the waiver process and facilitate the potential turnover of ownership. To date, the FWC has received approximately 50 waivers from affected boat owners.

Tuesday, Nov. 15, will mark the end of the 45-day period for vessel owners to either remove a derelict boat from the waters of the state or bring it into a non-derelict condition. If a derelict vessel is not brought into compliance or removed from the water by that day, it will be treated as any other derelict vessel. At this time, the FWC will not be charging displaced vessel owners with a criminal violation of Florida law but the decision to hold vessel owners responsible for removal, destruction and disposal costs could be made at a future date. Vessel owners are encouraged to hire a salvage company to recover their vessel to provide the safest method possible for the vessel and the environment.

For questions related to vessel removal or recovery on state waters, to report storm damaged, lost or abandoned boats on state waters, or to initiate the waiver process, call the Hurricane Ian Vessel Hotline at 850-488-5600 between the hours of 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday–Friday.

Public safety remains the number one priority at the FWC. The FWC would like to remind the public that officers will begin marking underwater navigational hazards with hazard buoys but there are still many underwater hazards. Pay close attention, use extreme caution, look out for submerged navigation aids and avoid areas where officers are working to mark or remove vessels.

SWFWMD: Check your irrigation timer when you ‘fall back’ to standard time

SWFWMD logo

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) is reminding residents to check the timers on their irrigation system controllers this weekend, which is the end of daylight saving time.

Saturday night [Nov. 5th] is when we will turn our clocks back one hour. The time change is also a good time to make sure irrigation system timers are set correctly to ensure that the systems operate consistently with year-round water conservation measures.

All 16 counties throughout the District’s boundaries are on year-round water conservation measures, with lawn watering limited to twice-per-week unless your city or county has a different schedule or stricter hours. Local governments maintaining once-per-week watering by local ordinance include Citrus, Hernando, southern Hillsborough, Pasco and Sarasota counties and the cities of Dunedin, Longboat Key, Sarasota and Venice.

Know and follow your local watering restrictions, but don’t water just because it’s your day. Irrigate your lawn when it shows signs of stress from lack of water. Pay attention to signs of stressed grass:

  • Grass blades are folded in half lengthwise on at least one-third of your yard.
  • Grass blades appear blue-gray.
  • Grass blades do not spring back, leaving footprints on the lawn for several minutes after walking on it.

For additional information about water conservation, please visit the District’s website at WaterMatters.org/Conservation.