SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – Erin Brockovich is putting Florida’s elected officials on blast over recent algae blooms that are killing off marine life and causing respiratory issues on the state’s southwest coast.
The environmental activist has posted several times over the past week about what many are calling an environmental crisis in South Florida. In a post on Tuesday, Brockovich called for Governor Scott and all elected officials in the state to take action.
“What are you doing? What are you thinking? Are you just really going to stand by and stand down and watch this destruction?” she wrote. “You cowards! People are sick! The ecosystem, the marine life is dying! Do your damn jobs and get off your a** and help your people, your state, our environment. This is so wrong, at every level, that there are no words to describe it!”
For the past month, several beaches along the southwest coast of Florida have been impacted by harmful algae blooms like red tide and blue-green algae. News Channel 8 viewers have reached out to us with pictures of dead fish and even manatees washed up along those beaches.
The FWC describes red tide as a higher-than-normal concentration of microscopic algae. Many blooms produce toxic chemicals that can affect marine life and humans.
“The Florida red tide organism, K. brevis, produces brevetoxins that can affect the central nervous system of fish and other vertebrates, causing these animals to die,” the FWC explains on its website.
Red tide can also release toxins in the air, causing respiratory irritation.
Fish kills and respiratory irritation have been reported for the past several weeks in Sarasota County, Lee County, Charlotte County and Collier County.
On Wednesday, the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office said a marine deputy came across a manatee paralyzed by red tide in Lemon Bay. The sheriff’s office said the animal was “still alive and able to breathe” as deputies waited for FWC assistance.
The FWC says blue-green algae (or cyanobacteria,) like red tides, “can grow and accumulate, or bloom, when environmental conditions such as light availability and temperature are favorable.” Water contaminated with toxic cyanobacteria can cause nausea, vomiting and even acute liver failure if it’s ingested.
On July 9, Gov. Rick Scott issued an emergency order to combat algae blooms in Glades, Hendry, Lee, Martin, Okeechobee, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties. In a news release, the governor said those blooms were caused by Lake Okeechobee water discharges from the Army Corps of Engineers.
On Tuesday, the Corps took questions from the public for the first time since the discharges started. According to WBBH, Cape Coral citizens packed into a yacht club to voice their concerns about the blue-green algae in their area.
During the meeting, frustrations boiled over to the point that the mayor even threatened to shut it down.
“Why are they sending all this water down the rivers and not back where it used to come from? They’re polluting millions of people and animals and everything,” Curtis Huette said.
Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds told the crowd part of the reason there’s so much blue-green algae in the system is because of last year’s Hurricane Irma.
“Hurricanes aren’t the only disaster. This is a disaster,” Huette said.
The corps also told those in attendance there’s no funding to move Lake Okeechobee water south for the time being.
“As bad as discharging water is to the Caloosahatchee and the St. Lucie estuary, it is the least worst option,” John Campbell told the crowd.
An activist’s call for action
Erin Brockovich has posted several times about the algae blooms on her official Facebook page, criticizing politicians for not doing anything to combat the situation. Brockovich is famous for her successful lawsuit against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company in the Hinkley groundwater contamination case.
Last week, Brockovich responded to the Gov. Scott’s state of emergency last month, saying “Not much has been accomplished…a billion gallons per day of toxic water continue to flow into the Gulf and Atlantic Ocean.”
She posted again on Sunday, saying “WHAT THE HELL?”
“The conditions in Florida have gotten worse. It’s deplorable. They re-opened the floodgates of hell,” she wrote. “Looks like Florida legislators and government are just going to stand-down and kill the ecosystem, the turtles, the manatees and many other marine mammals and life.”
On Tuesday night, she posted a video on her page of a dead manatee that washed up in Cape Coral. According to WBBH, it washed up onto the dock at the Cape Coral Yacht Club during the public meeting with the US Army Corps of Engineers.
She followed up with two more posts. One focused on businesses and the impact the blooms are having on their bottom lines.