1. Letters to the Editor

Sunday's letters: Understand the Loop Current's role in Red Tide

Published Aug. 24, 2018

Tests find algae at one beach | Aug. 23

Red Tide and its many causes

Red Tide is the bloom of the harmful alga, Karenia brevis. Blooms form in the middle of the continental shelf when nutrient concentrations are low, enabling the slow-growing K. brevis to outcompete faster-growing plants. The biological processes entail a sequence of events, including iron fertilization by Saharan dust, fueling blooms of another plant that transforms atmospheric nitrogen, feeding K. brevis and shielding it from light. K. brevis can then dominate over other plants, kill fish and consume their nutrients. But these biological factors provide only half the story. Ocean circulation determines the nutrient state offshore and the K. brevis transport to the coast. Thus, the ocean circulation and the organism biology are equally important for Red Tide formation and bloom manifestation.

Not all years are similar, and the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current provides the reason. Loop Current interactions near the Dry Tortugas set the entire shelf in an upwelling circulation, bringing new nutrients onto the shelf. If this occurs in spring through summer, faster-growing plants may suppress Red Tide development. By keeping track of the Loop Current, College of Marine Science/University of South Florida (CMS-USF) scientists accounted for the occurrence of major blooms for 20 out of 25 years with concurrent Loop Current and Red Tide data.

Once a bloom occurs, CMS-USF and Florida Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) scientists track where the bloom may go. FWRI provides cell counts; CMS-USF uses an ocean model to forecast the movement. Not only is Red Tide transported along shore, new cells may also arrive from offshore. So improved predictions require offshore, near bottom observations.

This understanding applies more generally because organisms depend upon the water properties in which they live. Thus only through an interdisciplinary, systems science approach will we become better stewards of our coastal ocean.

Robert H. Weisberg, Tierra Verde

The writer is professor of physical oceanography in the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida.

Stop laying blame and
fix algae mess | Editorial, Aug. 20

How to fix this mess

The diversion of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee to the estuaries began under Hamilton Disston, a business man who purchased a large section of the Everglades with the dream of turning it into dry land. He began the process of dredging and drying it out more than 100 years ago. His engineers sought to drain Lake Okeechobee and the sawgrass prairies and cypress forests by the lake. They opened drainage canals to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. He also created the first sugar plantations, dreaming up the concept of growing sugar cane around Lake Okeechobee. This dream is now Florida's toxic nightmare.

Disston did not understand that Lake Okeechobee and surrounding wetlands formed the Everglades' tributaries. Developers took the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, which had limited flows of fresh water, and turned them into a fire hose of fresh water from Lake Okeechobee. In the 1930s engineers walled off Lake Okeechobee from much of its flood plain, so it was unable to clean its waters of nutrients. The lake went from crystal clear to its turbid color we now see. It is subject to algae blooms that flow into the estuaries.

What's the solution? Restore a portion of the sheet flow south with storm water treatment areas and storage, restore Lake Okeechobee so it can clean itself (this means lake levels between 12 and 15 feet), restore funding to the South Florida Water Management District, restore the Department of Community Affairs and the growth management policies so growth can be managed. Stop wetlands destruction. Purchase back a third of the Everglades agricultural area to restore wetlands and water storage.

Drew Martin, Lake Worth

The writer is conservation chair of the Loxahatchee Group chapter of the Sierra Club.

Vaccines are safe; going
without isn't | Editorial, Aug. 18

Vaccines save lives

I was particularly touched by this editorial on vaccination. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the greatest pandemic in modern history, known as the Spanish Flu pandemic, although it most likely originated in the United States, probably Kansas. It is estimated that up to 5 percent of the world's population died from it.

If they had had an efficacious vaccine, much of that tragedy would have been avoided. They had a vaccine for smallpox, and were trying to develop more. In fact, one of the first vaccines draftees and recruits in the Army received upon reporting to camp during World War I was one to prevent typhoid fever. I am retired now, but when I was doing vaccine research before 2003, I was distressed that research was not very robust when it came to the flu vaccine. I wondered why research on a vaccine so obviously tied to national security was being so neglected. In World War I, the cruiser USS Pittsburgh was rendered useless by the epidemic and, on the home front, so many soldiers were afflicted it was becoming nearly impossible to supply Gen. John Pershing with the troops he demanded. I am encouraged now by the renewed emphasis to push for more research aimed at the development of a universal vaccine.

John McMichael, Tampa

Whatever happened
to Baby Benjamin | Aug. 19

Saving abandoned babies

I wish to extend my sincere appreciation for this article, which I'm sure touched many hearts and perhaps raised awareness to the abandonment of newborn infants and the lawful options that exist in our state. I am chief of the Oviedo Fire Rescue Department, having 35 years of service and also have been a chapter coordinator for A Safe Haven for Newborns in Florida. In fact, three infants have been surrendered at Oviedo fire stations. Statewide, 283 have been surrendered at hospitals and fire stations. A Safe Haven for Newborns has served well more than 5,000 callers seeking assistance in their time of need.

Lars D. White, Oviedo


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