Red tide has been present in varying degrees off the coast of Southwest Florida since October 2017 and precipitated an unprecedented fill kill in the summer of 2018 on Sanibel and Captiva Islands. The catastrophic impact of this toxin on the environment and humans dominates Santiva Chronicle’s Top 5 Most-Read Stories of 2018:

No. 5
SCCF Sea Turtle Stranding Map Documents Mass Mortality
Provided by SCCF, posted Oct. 16, 2018

A bloom of Karenia brevis has resulted in the largest number of sea turtle deaths ever attributed to a single red tide event.

The total number of strandings since the red tide started in October 2017 now stands at 242 (196 dead and 46 alive). For reference, the previous 10 year average was 31 per year.

In response, Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation staff, in conjunction with data provided by Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, created an interactive map to track the life stages and locations of stranded sea turtles. The organizations want it to demonstrate the impact of this unprecedented event on an already stressed population.

No. 4
City Council Calls for Air Quality Testing as Red Tide Persists
by SC Writer Barbara Linstrom, posted Dec. 8, 2018

Emotional reactions to a red tide that has lingered for 14 months and its impacts on humans, dogs and cats led to a call for air quality testing at the Dec. 4 Sanibel City Council meeting.

I hate to be the canary in the coal mine,” said Jason Maughan, a council member who talked about a strange mist coming off the water in Santiva. “There’s a sea mist and an aspiration from the wave action there – it’s cloudy for about a mile and a half of the west end and today… and last night was the first time that I noticed real physiological effects.”

As explained on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s website, Karenia brevis, a microscopic alga, causes red tide when it occurs in higher-than-normal concentrations. When it dies, neurotoxins are released. “Those brevetoxins can affect the central nervous system of fish and other vertebrates, causing them to die. Wave action can break open K. brevis cells and release these toxins into the air, leading to respiratory irritation in humans,” according to the FAQs.

No. 3
Pence Apparently Returning to Sanibel
SC staff report, posted March 28, 2018

It appears Vice President Mike Pence will be taking another vacation to Sanibel Island. The first indication that Pence would be in the area came Wednesday, March 28, when it was learned the air space over Fort Myers would be restricted on Thursday, March 29, when Pence is expected to arrive. The Santiva Chronicle learned of the air space restrictions from a local pilot on Wednesday and that has been confirmed by the Business Aviation Administration.

No. 2
Sanibel Beaches Returning To A Natural State After Fish Kill
SC staff report, posted Aug. 15, 2018

The City of Sanibel continues the fish kill cleanup with a significant drop in dead sea life deposits on the beaches, in canals and bayous. Beachgoers should notice the island’s beaches returning to a natural state barring any significant condition changes, according to the city’s Wednesday, Aug. 15, status report. Sanibel began a massive fish kill cleanup July 28 due to increased red tide in the water. Contractual crews were brought in to augment city staff, as well as additional equipment, but are being reduced daily. City officials are now actively pursuing the full cost of recovery from the massive cleanup effort.

No. 1
Whale Shark On Sanibel Stuns Scientists
by SC Writer Barbara Linstrom, posted July 29, 2018

As Mote Marine Laboratory’s resident shark expert, Dr. Bob Heuter often gets calls from Southwest Florida residents who think they’ve seen a whale shark.

I’ll get calls all the time. Sometimes it’s a large and spotted animal swimming in a canal and that may actually be an eagle ray,” he says. “Or, it’s a call about an animal with spots the size of a manatee coming up to the surface in the Gulf and they say it can’t be a manatee because it’s spotted, but it turns out it is a manatee and the spots are barnacles.”

So, when he got a call at noon on Sunday, July 22, that a dead whale shark had washed up on the beach on Sanibel, he was dubious at first. That is, until the caller explained that she was a biologist from the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum.