We’re making red tide worse

We’ve met the enemy. And, go figure, he’s us:

In a new study that is the first to explain what some have long suspected, researchers found that human activity helps sustain and intensify naturally occurring red tide blooms in Southwest Florida.

Conducted by researchers at the University of Florida, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, the study found that while a combination of factors contributes to red tide blooms, human activity has played a consistent role in intensifying them during the past decade.

The researchers linked blooms in Charlotte Harbor and surrounding coastal areas to nitrogen inputs from the Caloosahatchee River, Lake Okeechobee and areas upstream of the lake.

Which suggests that unless we address those inputs, we’ll continue to make the red tides worse and worse.

“This study confirms that nitrogen loads can in fact make red tide last longer,” said study coauthor Christine Angelini, director of the Center for Coastal Solutions. “However, it is important not to jump to conclusions and immediately assign ‘blame’ for red tide events to a particular land use because other factors play a role as to the level of impact human activity will have.”

No one ever wants to point a finger. And to be fair, sure, there are a variety of reasons why nitrogen loading has increased. Agriculture is likely one of them, but not the only one.

What are the other sources, and how might all sources be curtailed? That’s the big political fight inherent in this environmental problem, as always.

It’s great to be able to say with some clarity that human activity is making these bloom worse. But which humans; what activity?

There has to be more testing, a greater attempt to verify the sources of the problem. And once verified, the problem has to be addressed, the nutrients curtailed. Which is always easy to say, far far harder to do.

But that’s the key task on the west coast and throughout Florida. For if we can’t ultimately stop pollution at its source – Well, we met the enemy.

He’s us.

And he’s only going to get harder and harder to deal with.