Silence Of Science On Red Tide – Seeking Objective Research

MELEALGAE In: Silence Of Science On Red Tide - Seeking Objective Research | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River

Word choice may mislead, and here “initiate” may be technically true, but “exacerbate” may be more precise and equally condemning.   And many disinterested water scientists view a relationship between our catastrophic, nutrient-caused algae issue and the unusual and equally catastrophic red tide.

What we have here is human-caused pollution and its deadly effects on aquatic animals.

Indeed, if Mosaic provides funds for Dr. Crosby’s work, then a discussion of phosphate nutrients, red tide and algae from his institute can not be considered objective.  If Mote Marine Laboratory wishes to produce objective research on phosphate issues, they must divest from Mosaic.

In case you are wondering, the two opposing Representatives to Senate Bill 552 were Pafford and Rodriguez.  Aliki Moncrief gave a good analysis of this bill, seen in retrospect as failing the environment even more than at first imagined.

Read Andy Mele’s article in the original here in the Herald Tribune.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-

Guest Opinion: Silence of science on red tide

mele 1 In: Silence Of Science On Red Tide - Seeking Objective Research | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River

By Andy Mele, Guest Columnist

Posted Aug 21, 2018 at 3:58 AM Updated Aug 21, 2018 at 8:43 AM

As a longtime environmental advocate and author, I am familiar with the complexity of events such as the harmful algal blooms (HABs) currently afflicting the Florida Gulf Coast and the Indian River Lagoon. I am also familiar with the carefully nurtured objectivity among scientists and researchers that absolves them from having to offer policy guidance.

Twenty years ago, in the Hudson Valley, as executive director of a 20,000-member environmental group called Clearwater, I participated in a number of discussions on the issue of objectivity, in formal and informal settings, with scientists and academics from the many distinguished institutions in the region.

From those discussions and conference breakouts there emerged a clear consensus that scientists want their work to have meaning, and to drive meaningful policy. Scientists have opinions, and know what needs to be done to effect change.

It is the managers of these institutions, their sponsors and often elected officials who prefer science to remain silent on controversial matters. Seems counterintuitive, since science can dispel controversy.I was pleased to see Dr. Michael P. Crosby, president and CEO of Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, in his Aug. 17 guest column, mention the possibility of anthropogenic nutrient inputs influencing the proliferation of toxic blue-green algae flowing toward both coasts from Lake Okeechobee.

But when he states, unequivocally, “The ongoing red tide bloom is a naturally occurring cyclic event that is not initiated by outflows from Lake Okeechobee, nor inputs from the Caloosahatchee River,” I have to respectfully challenge — or perhaps clarify — that hypothesis.

The blue-green algae is a freshwater organism. It dies when the ambient salinity reaches a certain level. When it dies, it is consumed by detrivores that themselves excrete wastes and die, thereby making staggering quantities of phosphorus and nitrogen bio-available — food for karenia brevis, the red tide organism.

“The greatest nutrient sources [of k. brevis blooms] were the decay and recycling of the cyanobacteria (blue-green alga) Trichodesmium” (National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, 2013).

When Crosby asserts that great volumes of red-tide food flowing out of the Caloosahatchee would not “initiate a bloom,” and yet states elsewhere that a red-tide bloom is “fueled” by nutrients from “numerous creeks and rivers,” it feels as if his messaging is tripping over itself. The public deserves better than messaging.

Furthermore, while red tide may be a cyclical event, it has never killed marine mammals on this scale before.

The massacre began on the next agricultural cycle after the passage of Senate Bill 552 in the Florida Legislature in January 2016. That ill-conceived bill was Gov. Rick Scott’s business-friendly creation. It made Big Agriculture happy, but turned springs brown and almost immediately resulted in mats of blue-green algae laying waste to some of the nation’s finest estuaries — “fueling” one of the worst red tides in history.

In science, concurrency is not causation. But with our cherished marine mammals — the very animals that Dr. Crosby’s institution is widely thought to protect — dying by the hundreds, it is just not good enough to say: It’s complicated.

I challenge Dr. Crosby and his institution, and all its partners — including the Mosaic Company, which strip-mines and processes millions of tons of phosphatic nutrients in the headwaters of most of the region’s major rivers — to develop and implement a peer-reviewed study looking directly at the relationships between HAB events and anthropogenic nutrient inputs flowing south into Lake Okeechobee and west into the Charlotte Harbor estuary (via the Peace, Myakka and Caloosahatchee rivers).

The state of Florida is in a full-blown, but largely preventable, water crisis.

I challenge the voters of Florida to vote out the legislators who passed Senate Bill 552, for starters. It shouldn’t be hard to figure out who to send home: The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and only two House members opposed it.

If our scientific and academic institutions won’t step up, the people can give it their best shot. I hope they will.

Andy Mele is the Suncoast Waterkeeper, part of the global Waterkeeper Alliance. His mission is to protect and restore the waterways of Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties through enforcement, field work, advocacy and environmental education. Mele has an MS in environmental science from Bard College. Web:


  1. Well said, I’m a lake/wetland management professional of 15yrs in mostly Sarasota county. My work is 90% HOA ponds and lakes and I see first hand where the pollution starts…Landscapers fertilizing gone crazy, layering fertilizer, over irrigating, grass clippings all ending up in sterile ponds. Sterile by the jackwagons moving here and changing the way the ponds are meant to be, full of native aquatic plants using up some of the nutrient pollution, now they come in and kill all the shoreline plants and sometimes the littoral shelf plants as well! This just makes these waterbodies cesspools of nutrients going on the outfall with abundant rains ever feeding more red tide.
    We have to have goverment laws that are followed through with big teeth for those that don’t comply,
    We should have a statewide ban on all fertilizing until this red tide has abated, the revamp the laws for all fertilization in this state!

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