A chain reaction began in Europe about 260 years ago, thousands of miles from Florida, and the effect, climate change, is now punishing Manatee County, especially when it comes to the red tide.
Scientists and businessmen gathered at the University of South Florida in Sarasota-Manatee to discuss climate change on Friday. Among them was Robert Corell, director of the Global Environment Technology Foundation.
"It started in England with the discovery that we can take coal and we can get energy from it," Corell said. "We can build the future of humanity in a way that had never been thought of before."
The harmful emissions rose dramatically at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Scientists know, he said, because they measure the greenhouse gases that were captured in the ice, a time capsule of the atmosphere.
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A similar increase is true for the world population, which grew from less than one billion people in 1751 to 7.7 billion people in 2019.
Speakers described the rise in sea level, the worsening of hurricanes and the suffering of industries. They also highlighted a family problem in Manatee County: severe and prolonged red tide cycles.
As a resident of Longboat Key, the recent blooms were personal for Lenny Landau. He pointed to empty restaurants and canceled hotel reservations, along with the dead fish and the respiratory irritation that accompany the red tide.
Red tide blooms are a risk to the environment, public health and the economy.
"If someone was at war with the state of Florida and wanted a gun to chase us, it is clear that the red tide would be perfect, because the red tide hits everything," he said.
Landau began his speech by saying that he was an engineer, not a scientist, although both are motivated by curiosity and problem solving.
He studied the red tide for several months and concluded that rising sea levels would eventually be a local concern. However, through the work of another researcher, his focus shifted to the red tide.
"I know about the sea," he said. "It does not affect me well today, but the red tide affects us all today or tomorrow."
The red tide of Florida comes from a microscopic organism, Karenia brevis, what happens naturally in the Gulf of Mexico. It is the only organism of its kind, mainly because it leads to dead fish, shellfish poisoning and human respiratory tract irritation, according to Friday's presentation.
"There is no other agency in the world that makes all three," said Landau. "When you hear about the red tide in Boston or some other place, it's not like that. It's different, this is our red tide. "
The problem begins when the algae and nutrients of the red tide are extracted from the depths of the Gulf. They travel on a continental shelf before traveling along the surface of the ocean.
While the algae are already feeding on nutrients in the Gulf, find more food near the coast. The red tide is fed by leaks, spills or wastewater dumps, along with fertilizers and stormwater runoff.
So, how does climate change affect the red tide once it reaches the coast of Manatee? The red tide often appears at the end of summer and then vanishes in early winter, but the cycle is changing.
"You would have a flower, it disappears, people forget about that, that's all," said Landau. "In my opinion, we are at a point where we have to do something, if we do not, some of these things will be long term."
Cold water usually eliminates algae before tourists arrive, he said, but warmer temperatures make a suitable home for the red tide. As a result, the red tide bloomed in the fall of 2017 and then extended until 2018 and until this year.
"The red tide is affected by climate change, not because the water is getting warmer, but because it is not cooling enough," Landau continued.
Little was known about the relationship between climate change and the red tide. Faced with a lack of information or support, Landau encountered a sense of hopelessness, but ignored the detractors and carried out his investigation.
Some ideas are overwhelming. For example, he said, it is not clear how locals would address the flow of iron-rich dust clouds from Africa to Florida, which can feed the red tide.
But other solutions are more realistic for Manatee County and its surrounding communities. Some organizations are working on new or refined technology, such as Mote Marine Laboratory, in Sarasota.
Meanwhile, residents can concentrate on expressing their concerns, reducing the use of fertilizers or reducing sewage and stormwater drainage. The ultimate goal is to die of red tide and decrease its impact.
"It happens naturally," Landau said. "We're not going to argue with that, but climate change is allowing it to be here all year, and the pollution caused by man is fueling it."