FGCU study asks, do car emissions contribute to red tide?

FGCU researchers continue to work toward discovering why red tide keeps haunting our beaches on Southwest Florida’s coast. In August, the team launched a mission to narrow down possible factors. One major focus was Lake Okeechobee releases. Now, they are asking whether other factors are a main cause.

FGCU researchers have found emissions coming out of car exhausts could be another cause for hazardous red tide on Fort Myers Beach Friday.

“It has to be automobiles,” said Dr. Bill Mitsch, director of Everglades Wetland Research Park at FGCU. “I mean, what else is there to put that much nitrate into the atmosphere? I mean, we don’t have any power plants around here?”

The samples gathered from the Mitsch hypothesis are leading him to what may be driving up the red tide.

“There’s two things ironic,” Mitsch said. “That where I-75 is closer to the coast line starts up at about Tampa right? Comes over from Gainesville and hangs, sort of hugs the coast all the way over to where? South Lee County, North Collier, where it hangs the left and goes across the Everglades. That stretch is exactly where the red tide was this year.”

Dan Andre, who runs a bed and breakfast business on the beach, agrees with Mitsch’s theories. Andre’s business was devastated by red tide this past summer.

“When you’re putting nitrates and phosphates in the water, you have to be fueling some kind of the algae,” Andre said. “We lost all our business.”

Andre also believes the releases from Lake O are fueling the blooms.

“You can see the difference in the water here when the lake gets high, and they release,” Andre said.

However, Mitsch said his study did not find enough evidence to prove Lake O releases by the Jacksonville District US Army Corps of Engineers is a major cause for red tide in areas like the Caloosahatchee River and further out into the Gulf of Mexico.

Over 30 samples were taken from along the coast on FMB during the study Mitsch conducted. Only two samples had enough nitrate to test. Mitsch said because the study was so small, it’s not enough to completely rule out Lake O releases as a contributor to red tide.

Regardless, people on Fort Myers Beach do to not want researchers to stop looking for answers to solve the issue of red tide.

“I mean we’re on this planet together, and we got to save it for our kids, said Debbie Sutterer, visiting FMB.

Reporter:Gina Tomlinson
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