by James Evans, Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation Environmental Policy Director
Your voice is needed to urge the Biden Administration to deny the permit for a harmful aquaculture operation in the Gulf of Mexico!
Now, after heavy local opposition and renewed consideration by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation is hopeful that the project’s permit will be rescinded due to the extensive environmental and economic impacts this project will have on Southwest Florida.
It has the potential to impact water quality and native fish stocks as the first aquaculture facility permitted in waters off the continental United States.
Ocean Era Inc. —a Hawaii-based corporation—is proposing an aquaculture pilot project 45 miles off the coast of Sarasota. The goal of this project is to assess the prospects and efficacy of aquaculture in U.S. waters.
SCCF is not opposed to aquaculture in general. However, there are significant concerns with this project and the potential environmental, ecological, and economic impacts that it may have on the coastal waters and communities of Southwest Florida.
Aquaculture facilities are intensive operations that generate large amounts of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) and waste products, require heavy doses of antibiotics and other chemicals to maintain fish health, and create farmed populations that are low in genetic diversity. SCCF’s scientists believe that this project will impact water quality in an area of the Gulf prone to red tide and other harmful algal blooms, and the operation has the potential to impact native fish stocks.
In 2018, Southwest Florida experienced one of the worst red tide events in recorded history. The City of Sanibel removed more than 850,000 pounds of dead marine life from Sanibel’s beaches. The Islands of Sanibel and Captiva Chamber of Commerce reported economic losses of more than $47 million from July to December related to tourism, real estate, and recreational fishing.
A lot is still unknown about the organism that causes Florida red tides (Karenia brevis), but research suggests that excess nitrogen and phosphorus in the waters where red tide blooms occur can enhance and/or prolong bloom events. Southwest Florida communities cannot afford another year like 2018. The State of Florida and the federal government should be working together to reduce and eliminate nutrient loading to our coastal waters, not authorizing projects that will contribute new sources of nutrients in areas where red tide blooms most often occur.
The EPA issued a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit for the project on Sept. 30. SCCF and the City of Sanibel, along with numerous environmental groups, commercial fishermen, and local governments along the Gulf coast, submitted letters to the EPA opposing the project. Despite overwhelming opposition to this project, the EPA moved forward with issuing the permit.
In recent weeks, however, the Biden Administration has directed the EPA to revisit this permit before any action takes place. Make your voice heard and tell the EPA that you oppose this aquaculture facility proposed in the Gulf of Mexico. Provide your comments to the U.S. EPA today with one click!