EDITOR’S NOTE: The following was submitted by Sanibel Captiva Rotarian Shirley Jewell.

Although the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Trust has just closed its fall grant cycle and all applications have been processed our Trust Board will not be announcing the grant recipients’ names until all have been notified. However, the club had two grant applications in the pipeline for matching funds from our Rotary District #6960 applied for by San-Cap’s-TRF/The Rotary Foundation representative, Chet Sadler, a few months ago.

Chet announced, “Good News…our club’s matching fund applications had been granted – the Harlem Heights Center in Fort Myers will be receiving $5,000 for repair of their hydroponic gardens after being damaged by Hurricane Irma, and The Sanibel Sea School will receive $5,000 to purchase kayaks enabling students to explore the waters around Sanibel.”

This was a timely announcement, since our guest speaker on Friday was Dr. Bruce Neil – Sanibel Sea School, Executive Director.

Certainly, Dr. Bruce could have concentrated on what’s been happening at the Sanibel Sea School but he choose to speak about…the Island’s surrounding water quality and red tide. He spoke about how most of us are misled or uninformed on the topic; the reason, we know little about the Ocean. To this point, little government money has been directed to this specific study. A recent perfect storm of multiple red tide outbreaks affecting the Gulf Coast waters and green algae occurrences produced by freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee down the Caloosahatchee River to San Carlos Bay has certainly made an impact on our area and the water quality that we all basically take for granted. That might change, at least for a little while, but hopefully - OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND doesn’t lull us into forgetting until this occurrence happens again. Science tells us that something major is happening in our environment and we need to wakeup and pay attention.

Red tide is caused by a microscopic algae - Karenia brevis, and is always present in the Gulf of Mexico, a natural occurrence. The multiplying of Karenia brevis can be exacerbated by unusual environmental conditions and can reproduce rapidly. These algae blooms produce brevetoxins, which can result in significant ecological impact. Brevetoxins can affect the central nervous system of fish and other vertebrates, causing these animals to die. Wind and currents push thousands of dead fish together in a massive fish kill. As red tide blooms approach coastal areas, breaking waves can cause toxins to become mixed with airborne sea spray. People can experience varying degrees of eye, nose, and throat irritation. When a person leaves an area with a red tide, symptoms usually go away. Dr. Bruce told us, “Red tide outbreaks will go away for now, but we will see them again…when-no answer…why-more study needed.”

According to Mote Marine Laboratory our Gulf Coast, “Red tide blooms have been getting progressively worse, closer to shore, and persisting for a greater length of time, indicating that if it is an entirely natural cycle, it has undergone concerning changes of late.”

Water quality in the Gulf of Mexico and San Carlos Bay was affected this summer by both red tide in nearby salt water bodies and also by impactful occurrences of blue green algae formed in water flowing down the Caloosahatchee from Lake O.

Lake O water is definitely polluted by agriculture fertilized water run-off and when released down the Caloosahatchee is joined by other fertilized and polluted water run-off, off the banks of the river. Fertilizers are not our only problem in exacerbating the formation of blue-green algae; poor sewage and sanitation processes have contributed heavily to the blue-green algae problem in the river. Sanibel has led the way on fertilizer restrictions and has plans in the works to create a more efficient waste-water treatment facility. Can we fix our water quality problems? We can try. We can’t change mother nature, but we can sure fix our plumbing and waste treatment problems.

And, this is my two cents, “When you vote in this election, be selective and vote for those who really are interested in improving water quality in our state’s oceans, rivers, and lakes. Vote for those that will walk the walk and not just talk the talk.”

Sanibel-Captiva Rotary meets Friday mornings at 7 a.m. at the Dunes Golf & Tennis Club, Sanibel. Guests are always welcomed.