Red Tide Devastates Florida Gulf Beaches

red tide

Florida’s gulf beaches are (slowly) recovering from a devastating bloom of algae that both experts and locals refer to as red tide. Although this phenomenon has been around for years, rearing its ugly head in late summer or early fall, many insist it was more deadly than ever these past few months after hurricane Ian ravaged the same coastline.

What is Red Tide?

National Ocean Service refers to red tide as a harmful algal bloom (HAB). The problem arises when this microscopic, naturally occurring, algae called Karenia Brevis rages out of control, spewing toxins into the water and air, killing fish and other water inhabitants. The airborne toxins cause respiratory concerns in humans such as coughing, burning nose and eyes.

This particular algae bloom is red in colour, which, when combined with the blue-green of clean ocean water, creates a grotesque, purplish-brown, sludge-like appearance. (think red paint added to green or blue paint) The ugly colour of the water and the carnage of dead, stinky sea life on the shores made the typically beautiful gulf coast beaches not so beautiful.

What Causes Red Tide

There are several theories on what causes Karenia Brevis to bloom out of control. The most plausible (due to the fact that this is occurring on an increasingly regular basis) blames human-generated pollution. The Mississippi River runs from north to south through many of the united states, collecting garbage, sewage, pesticides, fertilizers, and more, dumping it all into the Gulf of Mexico. Gulf currents moving north along the Texas shore gather pollutants, sweeping them across the gulf and south up the Florida coast. The algae feeds on this pollution, causing the outbreaks. In turn, the fish killed by the toxins the algae blooms release are left to rot on the shorelines. The tide then carries the rotting fish back into the water to refuel the expanding algae bloom.

The severity of this recent red tide outbreak is being blamed by some on hurricane Ian that destroyed many communities along the Florida gulf with heavy winds and flooding a few months ago. Many of the resorts and homes along the coast use septic systems which overflow under such extensive flooding. As a result, sewage and other algae fueling debris ended up in the gulf.

Getting Red Tide Under Control

Mother Nature does her part attempting to get the situation under control. The ebb and flow of tides, huge waves, constant currents, and storms all help to break up the algae bloom. Vultures and smaller birds do their part too, congregating to feast on the rotting flesh of the dead fish and crabs.

Fortunately for my vacation plans, Mother Nature appears to be winning the battle. We had to turn back on our first beach walk when my burning nose and eyes felt like I was sniffing hot peppers! Every day since has been better and now I am happy to report that the pristine beauty of our favourite, swimmable-in-December beach is back!

Tropical Sightings

Recently returned from a vacation, I cannot help but notice how quickly reality reinstates itself.  In fact, today the sight outside my window is decidedly whiter and frostier, my tropical view has disappeared…

 

There were lots of tropical sightings throughout our two weeks immersed in the warm weather of Casey Key and its surrounding area on the gulf coast of Florida.  These included the vegetation, local beaches, wildlife, sunsets, Christmas decorations and of course the margaritas.

Vegetation

As I’ve said before, you can take this gardening girl out of her gardens, but you can never take the (love for) gardens and plants out of this girl!  Wherever my travels lead me, I cannot help but notice the variety of plants and the design of gardens.  Succulents are my favourite, here in Canada and anywhere else I find them, although most plants do seem so much more spectacular in tropical climates.  For example, I have planted yuccas (Adam’s Needle variety) here in my local gardens and their 4 foot stalks of white, bell-shaped blooms are beautiful. I did not witness their tropical cousins in bloom, but am willing to bet they definitely outshine (and outgrow) the northern varieties…

 

Wildlife

I love all wildlife, but I find the tropical species especially interesting. The variety of birds alone kept my camera clicking, from pelicans to gulls, terns, ibis, sandpipers, egrets, herons and osprey.  Their antics and routines were fascinating. The saying “birds of a feather flock together” was evident, especially at sundown.

 

I realize that some of these birds are not exclusive to tropical locales, but I have never before seen an osprey patiently waiting for fishermen to donate their catches.  Apparently osprey were just removed from Florida’s endangered species list in January 2019.  This particular beauty would perch on a nearby pole, emitting a piercing chirp occasionally to let his donors know he was there, and wait for the fishermen to leave a fish on the jetty.  Much to their chagrin the more common pelicans and egrets hovering nearby were shooed away so the osprey could literally swoop in to retrieve the offering, then soar away…

 

Other tropical wildlife species included dolphins, sea turtles and even more birds, all beautiful in their own way…

Sunsets

A great argument for preferring the west (Gulf) coast of Florida to the east (Atlantic) coast is the abundance of gorgeous sunsets.  Every single night we watched the sun sink into the Gulf of Mexico, with the cloud formations making each sunset unique…

 

Beaches

The plentiful beaches along the Florida gulf coast are all spectacular, each featuring something different.  Siesta Key, near Sarasota, offers an extra wide expanse of soft (my granddaughter called it “squishy”) white sand, with a firmly packed strip close to the water’s edge perfect for walking, biking, jogging, and even strollers or wheel chairs. This beach is lined with miles of hotels to choose from.

Nokomis Beach on Casey Key (20 minutes south of Sarasota) boasts miles of sandy shoreline, a rock jetty at one end, lots of seashells and spectacular waterfront homes to admire.  We looked up one (smaller) home that is up for sale. A 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom fixer-upper located on the inland waterway side of the road with deeded access to the gulf is going for a cool $2.2 million USD.  I can’t afford that, but if any of you can, I will promise to come visit! Many of these gorgeous homes were damaged in a 2018 storm, so many are still under renovation.  One of the best features of Casey Key (we think) is that it is largely non-commercialized. Family owned homes and motels are restricted to two stories, supporting a more natural feel.

Venice Beach, 5 minutes further south, also sports miles of sandy shoreline as well as a massive wooden fishing jetty.  It too is dotted with high rise apartments and hotels, but offers a quainter shopping district nearby.

 

Christmas Decorations

Even the Christmas decorations have a tropical feel, although I had a hard time conjuring up any Christmas spirit without snow and cold weather.  A Santa Claus parade featured decorated boats, ranging from tiny sailboats to huge luxury yachts, floating down the intracoastal waterway one evening.  Many businesses, including our favourite Mexican food restaurant, are lit up for the holiday season too.

Weather

We were fortunate on this vacation as the weather was awesome, with the daytime temperatures hovering between 20 and 26 degrees Celsius.  Definitely more tropical than the weather here in Canada.  As you can see from some of the pictures, we did see lots of storm clouds, but only experienced rain on the very last day and even then only for a few moments.

 

 

 

Storm lashes Florida’s gulf coast, again

storm lashes Florida gulf coast

In mid-December of 2018, another storm hit the gulf coast of Florida. Unlike storms Gordon and Michael that hit just a few months earlier in September and October respectively, this storm had no name. At least none that I could discover.

We heard the storm warnings on the radio and TV, so the ominous clouds, lashing rain, and rising ocean swells were no surprise…

storm lashes Florida gulf coast
Nokomis Beach

Named or not, I was a witness to this particular storm. Any of the locals I spoke to that day claimed they had never seen the waves so high. A stranger sent me this copy of a video he shot. That is my husband checking out the waves crashing on and washing over the jetty as the rest of us huddled further back from the action.

The news spread fast, locals and visitors alike flocked over the drawbridge that connects Casey Key to the mainland of Nokomis. The road to the north jetty was well-traveled with those wanting to witness the wrath of Mother Nature. The level of the water rose so high with the wind and rain that most of the jetty was underwater and the beach was barely walkable…

storm lashes Florida gulf coast
crashing waves
storm lashes Florida gulf coast
water level rising to grasses

Later that day, the waves subsided somewhat, the skies cleared and a spectacular sunset promised better weather the next day…

storm lashes Florida gulf coast
here comes the sun!
storm lashes Florida gulf coast
flooded beach
sunset after the storm
beach sunset

drawing the shell collectors to the beach and the (rather bedraggled) wildlife to the jetty the next morning…

storm lashes Florida gulf coast
shell collecting after the storm
storm lashes Florida gulf coast
collecting shells after the storm

Although the beautiful beach and spectacular oceanfront homes had already sustained an incredible amount of damage in the previous storms, we saw more the next morning…

storm lashes Florida gulf coast
steps buried in sand

Everywhere I travel, I cannot help but stop to admire (and snap pictures of) the local plants. That’s the gardener in me I guess…

storm
variegated yuccas
storm lashes Florida gulf
beach access

The stormy weather lasted around 24 hours. As much as it was spectacular to witness it, I prefer walking the beach with calmer waters and sunshine.

Margarita Tester

I was a self appointed margarita tester on a recent trip to Casey Key in Nokomis, Florida. I love anything lime flavored, and as margaritas definitely impart a tropical vibe, they were my beverage of choice for the week. What I did not realize is that every establishment appears to have their own version of the perfect margarita.

Our evening dinner locations ranged from casual family grills to upscale dining choices. These restaurants turned out my top three favourite margaritas. The only thing they had in common was the lime and tequila, with other ingredients creating the uniquely delicious concoctions.

Fishbone Grill offered the tastiest food (if you are into seafood) as well as the fanciest atmosphere and service, but the margarita was kind of boring. While the fancy presentation of the margarita at Mi Pueblo had my hopes up, the flavour was just ok. Delicious Mexican food and the authentic atmosphere almost made up for my disappointment. Gecko’s Grill & Pub version of a margarita, garnished with a (rubber) gecko, was the most delicious concoction of lime, tequila and “je ne sais quoi” The food was superb too, especially the ribs that literally fell off the bone and melted in my mouth.

margarita
#3.. Fishbone Grill offered the tastiest food (if you are into seafood) as well as the fanciest atmosphere and service, but the margarita was kind of boring
margarita
#2…the presentation of this margarita at Mi Pueblo had my hopes up but the flavour was just ok. Delicious Mexican food and the authentic atmosphere almost made up for my disappointment
margarita
#1… Gecko’s Grill & Pub margarita, garnished with a (rubber) gecko, was the most delicious concoction of lime, tequila and “je ne sais quoi” The food was superb too.

Margarita taste tester was a tough job, but I was happy to do it. Deciding what to make and preparing dinner can be tedious for even the most organized and creative person, so I am happy to relinquish that job when travelling.

However, my bathroom scale may convince me to revert back to the original job now that I am home. Booooooring!