One Fish, Two Fish
By: Peggy Willms
(4 min read)
It has been several weeks since Red Tide arrived here on the beaches of SWFL, and the Gulf of Mexico continues to purge its innards. The fish are crying, and so am I.
We walk down to the beach several days a week. Shockingly, our last trip was the worst ever. In hindsight, there were many signs that our walk would be different that day. First, in our defense, we have not watched the news regularly for months. I am sure you can relate to why we have detoxified ourselves from human rambling.
We noticed the traffic was abnormally thin, and we hadn’t encountered any dog walkers. My guy loves that part of the trip. He stops and plays with every one of them. If I agreed, we would have a dozen fur babies running around our house.
Before we reach our destination, we walk past this patch of mangroves that separates us from one of the canals. It is a playground for many animals, from cranes, herons, turtles, and dolphins. However, we noticed an overbearing stenchy fish aroma during this trip.
A few steps later, I started coughing. It felt like my throat was on fire. Coughing isn’t abnormal for me. With severe allergies and an unpredictable immune system, life can sometimes be a bit challenging. As a lifelong non-smoker, I have been the butt end of a few jokes.” There she goes again with her non-smoker’s cough.”… “She has bronchitis and pneumonia more than anyone I know.”… “She is the sickest, healthy person I have ever met.” On this day, the wind blew, and I thought the dancing foliage was playing games with me.
Standing on the dock, taking off our shoes and socks, we counted only a few dozen people sitting along the miles of shore. WHAT? There are usually hundreds. Where was everybody? It is “busy season!” Busy season is when northerners head south to warmer climates to avoid their frigid temps at their “second” home. Our area typically runs from the end of October through April. It is called “busy” because IT IS. That is another story.
As we got closer to the water, we became fixated on two things: me, the water, and Dana, the beach. I was analyzing the color of the splashing waves along the water’s edge. Why was it so dark? At times, a latte-like froth can be caused by winds mixing with the ocean’s normal concentrated algae. Nothing we beach lovers worry much about. But this froth was different. As we continued to walk, we spoke our ahas at the exact moment and out loud—Red Tide. There was a plethora of dead marine life blanketing our walking path. I mean hundreds and hundreds of dead fish, puffer fish, clams, and eels. There was one animal I had never seen before. It looked like a mini Loch Ness. By now, we were tip-toeing backwards in utter shock and disgust. Luckily neither of us stepped on anything.
Red tide is a concentration of algae so high it will turn stunning, turquoise waters to the color of Santa Claus’s red suit. This was of biblical proportions. “The Red Sea had parted.”
Florida has a specific type of HAB (high algae bloom). Many natural sources can increase the water’s “natural” pollution, such as the normal turn-around of life of dead fish or other sea creatures. Or, in our case, the ocean could still be mad at Hurricane Ian, which whipped through here last fall. Sadly, Red Tide is more prevalent from man-made sources such as air pollution or run-off from streets, lawns, and farm-land fertilizers. We invite anyone who doesn’t think environmental issues are alarming to join us on a walk. In addition to the sea life, the environment has negatively affected the coastal mangroves, oysters, and clams that naturally filter nutrients in seawater.
Normal algae levels are: Very low: > 1,000 – 10,000 cells/L; Low: > 10,000 – 100,000 cells/L; Medium: > 100,000 – 1,000,000 cells/L; and High: > 1,000,000 cells/L. We have been hovering at medium and high in our area for weeks. This particular trip for us was HIGH and will continue for a few more days.
A few things bombarded my head and heart during this recent experience. Ironically, the first thing I thought of Dr. Seuss. I am an animation junky. It gives me a world where all the stresses of reality fall away (ooh, that is an awesome line). I have been fascinated by his books ever since I can remember. One of my favorites is Oh, The Places You’ll Go. I have a copy, and my son and my grandson do as well. But on this day, the bright yellow cover of one of his other books flashed in my mind’s eye like a traffic light.
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.
Some are red, and some are blue.
Some are old, and some are new.
Some are sad, and some are glad,
And some are very, very bad.
Visions of the fish jumping out of the water from one fishbowl to another gave me a whole different meaning. Unlike the book’s playful storyline, the “real” world was filled with sadness and turmoil.
Secondly, this beach girl lost her palace of peace and joy. Floating on the ebb and flow of the 70-degree water visions of mermaids coming to play would be over for quite some time.
Thirdly, I didn’t feel well. I didn’t realize the nausea I had been feeling for a week was likely due to the airborne effects of Red Tide. I sit outside and work for hours in the morning, increasing the number of toxins in my body. I have had sinus congestion, pissed-off allergies, and a cough. I am getting better which is likely due to my not going outside. Grrr
Samplings are taken from the waters every Friday, and the beaches are cleaned regularly. We are still on HIGH alert at our shores. We are now in the know and following the results closely.
One Fish, Two Fish swallow the algae spores. One Fish, Two Fish, please die no more.