Thursday, September 27, 2007

Algal Bloom and Fish Kill On Florida Beach

Tears, Hacking Cough, and Dead Fish on High End Real Estate

By Hardy Jones, executive director,

Deborah Cutting, shooting stills, and myself on video got out of our car at the site of an unusual (for this part of Florida) fish die-off and red tide event. Immediately our eyes began to burn and we started coughing. I’d heard about these occurrences of respiratory and eye irritation on the Gulf coast of Florida and along the central coast of California but never had the experience myself. It’s really odd to know that a toxin generated by a marine algae is blowing off the water with enough strength to cause respiratory distress in people walking the beaches and living nearby. I still have a scratchy throat hours after leaving the site.

See my blog of August 14, Algae Blooms Threatens Florida’s Gulf Coast for further information.

Some city employees tried to prevent me from filming the effects of this Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) at Houguenot Memorial Park, a beach east of Jacksonville, Florida. That’s a bit bizarre until you realize that attractive beaches constitute much of the life blood of Florida. It reminds me of the town officials who tried to keep shark warnings from being posted in the film “Jaws” so as not to discourage tourists.

The fish at the high water mark were a sad sight. A blown up puffer fish, a needle-fish, mullet, even a baby alligator - How could that be? – all strewn, wide-eyed, mouths agape, like rubbish in a huge crescent at the top of the beach.

We drove north to Fernandina Beach that had been the scene of a similar event yesterday. But there were few dead fish. What was clearly visible were the scraping marks of the earth moving equipment that had just cleaned the beach of the dead fish, though not their odor still hung in the air.

First indication of the red tide had come from a NOAA satellite that detected it September 25. Northeasterly winds are moving the algal bloom south. In a day or so we may not have to travel more than a mile to see the bloom. It could reach St. Augustine that soon.

What has caused this bloom? Well, no one knows the specifics of this one. Experts at the Nassau County Department of Health say correctly that it’s a combination of water temperature, salinity and wind direction. But it’s more than that. These blooms are hugely exaggerated by fertilizers that run off agricultural land carrying nutrients that magnify the bloom. Combine a little global warming and you can get a super-bloom.

Florida real estate values already suffer from the declining national market, fear of hurricanes and rising insurance costs. You can add the threat of algal blooms which make a day at the beach a tearful event.

BTW, these HABs are a global phenomenon, growing more serious with each year.

UPDATE: By Friday, September 28 the red tide had crossed the St. John's County border and continues south.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Cat Litter Threatens Dolphin, Whales and Sea Otters

Runoff From Cat Litter and Agriculture Pose Deadly Threat to Marine Mammals

By Hardy Jones, executive director,

The human footprint on the world is heavy indeed, even among the best intentioned.

Cat litter flushed down toilets by pet owners may be the cause of death for dolphins, whales and porpoises around the coast of Britain. Public health experts have found evidence of a common parasite in dead marine mammals and say cat owners who dump litter boxes into toilets could be the unwitting source.

Cats are essential to the life cycle of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, and the only animals which shed T-gondii through their feces, which can infect most mammals and birds when it enters the food chain.

In California concern that cat feces have contributed to sea otter deaths has led to warnings on cat litter bags that contents of litter boxes should be disposed of by placing them in a plastic bag and putting them in the trash. Scientists studying a mysterious decline in sea otters off California are now placing blame on cat owners who flush cat feces into the marine ecosystem through their toilets.

Toxic Algae off Los Angeles Killing Scores of Sea Lions

Toxic algaes known as harmful algal blooms (HABs) are a dramatically increasing problem worldwide. See my last blog about how they are affecting Florida.

The current outbreak of toxic algae off Los Angeles Harbor is the most virulent on record. So many sick and dieing seals and sea lions are stranding on the beaches that marine mammal rehabilitation centers have become overwhelmed. As a result some sickened sea lions cannot be taken to treatment centers.

The affected animals suffer seizures and brain damage brought on by the algae’s powerful neurotoxin.

A question I ask myself constantly is “What in hell will it take to generate popular awareness and demand for political action to stop the abominations we are perpetrating against the life support system of our planet? Where is the tipping point where people say “Alright! Enough.” Shouldn’t marine mammals dieing on our most popular beaches be a wake up call? How about air contaminated by gasses put out by algae in the Gulf of Mexico forcing residents and tourists to wear surgical masks off some of Florida’s most beautiful beaches? (See blog of August 9 - 10) That’s not enough to move the political powers that be? It should be enough. But agricultural political clout is strong and measure to improve the situation would be costly.

Epidemic Threatens Dolphins Around Spain
Spain has asked nations around the Mediterranean to help monitor an infection that may become an epidemic threatening dolphins. There was a similar epidemic during the 1990s.

Morbillivirus, a potentially fatal infection, was found in dead striped dolphins -- a protected species -- washed up on beaches in Spain. This same virus causes measles in its human form.

Why Morbillivirus, which is commonly found in the environment, is suddenly killing these dolphins is under investigation.

The warning signs are everywhere.