Florida is well-known for its year-round warm climate and beautiful, sandy beaches. While beach tourism drives the state’s economy, people who visit and live in the Sunshine State are losing the long-standing recreational opportunities that they cherish. Ongoing water pollution and harmful algal blooms, including red tides and toxic blue-green algae, are
putting public health at risk and causing massive die-offs of fish, marine life and sea turtles.
Red tides were particularly devastating in 2017 and 2018, as coastal communities along the Gulf Coast of Florida suffered through an unusually persistent and toxic red tide that lasted for more than a year. Bloom conditions reached as far as the Atlantic Coast late last summer, which caused beach closures and fish mortalities. Public health was
also affected as far as a mile inland through the release of airborne toxins from the blooms.
The problems associated with blue-green algae blooms, or Cyanobacteria, received massive media attention during the summer of 2016. Florida’s governor declared a state of emergency and beaches in several East Coast counties were closed over the July 4th holiday weekend. This earned
the affected stretch of coast the dubious nickname of ‘Guacamole Coast.’ While much of the state has experienced a temporary reprieve from the impacts of red tides and bluegreen algae blooms this winter, both are likely to return as temperatures rise this spring.
In 2018, the Palm Beach County Chapter started monitoring two new sites, including Ocean Reef Park on Singer Island, and Phil Foster Park, a beach on the intercoastal waterway that is heavily used by snorkelers and families with young children. The chapter also expanded their BWTF program by setting up a new lab at Forest Hill High School.
Environmental Academy students at this school are now testing three new beaches in Central and Southern Palm Beach County.
In addition to sharing their weekly water quality results with members, the Palm Beach County Chapter is helping to inform the local community whenever harmful algal bloom conditions affect safe aquatic recreation or beachgoing in their area. The chapter’s efforts have inspired other chapters in Florida, including the Broward County and Miami chapters, to start water testing programs as well. The Palm Beach County Chapter’s work has also led to a statewide campaign to restore state funding for the Florida Healthy Beaches program to improve public health protection at the beach.
Visit the BWTF website to see where Surfrider is testing in Florida and visit the Florida Healthy Beaches Program website to view all state-generated water quality data and beach advisories.
The Palm Beach County Chapter’s Ocean Friendly Gardens program also complements efforts made by Surfrider activists to advocate for federal, state and local solutions to harmful algal blooms in Florida. Ocean Friendly Gardens are maintained without the use of chemical fertilizers, which
contribute to high nutrient conditions and cause algae to bloom in many waterways. Ocean Friendly Gardens instead rely on native plants and healthy soil that is built naturally with compost and mulch, to soak up rain and reduce polluted runoff. This past year, the chapter installed a native garden that captures rain from the roof of the MacArthur State Park ranger station. This provides a great outreach tool for more than 60,000 people that visit the park each year.
Additionally, Surfrider activists across the state will be supporting state and local legislation this year to reduce the amount of fertilizers that pollute Florida’s waterways. They will also be promoting actions that anyone can take to make their own yards more Ocean Friendly. If there is a silver lining to the devastation that toxic algae blooms have brought to Florida this past year, it may be that Floridians
and those elected to public office are hopefully ready to make positive changes to protect clean water for this and future generations.