2010-06-03 / Outdoors

What’s that? Is that … OIL?

It seems everyone is seeing what looks like oil — tar balls and clumps of black yucky stuff — because of the recent news about the BP oil spill. Is it an ecological disaster?

It certainly is, in that helpful ideas and solutions are being postponed or stifled by the same groups and government regulatory agencies that should be acting now and asking questions later.

Is there any one person to blame? No.

There are disasters happening every week around the planet. The ones most glorified are the ones that the media chases and reports on. Why? Because it sells papers and drives up ratings as it gets lawsuits started and your blood boiling. Most harmful of all, however, is that it spreads rumors and falsehoods.

Let’s discuss our local bays, rivers, sounds and backwaters and the Gulf of Mexico. The rivers in our area, the Peace, Myakka and the Caloosahatchee, all feed into Charlotte Harbor, Pine Island Sound and Gasparilla Sound. It is a fact that runoff in these rivers from areas upstream brings sediments, nutrients and fresh water marine life with it. This is natural, for the most part. Man’s interference with our natural habitat, like cooling-water discharges, stormwater runoff, waterfront homes and other manmade projects, have altered the natural flow of nutrients and temperatures of our world.

In the news lately is the discovery of what looks to be blobs of oily, tarlike stuff in Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island. If this were really from the oil spill, would it not make sense that the barrier island beaches would show this, too?

But it is not so. This stuff could be a form of algae that usually grows on the bottom of the harbor and sounds. When our water temperatures warm to over 80 degrees, the algae forms a gas that allows the algae to rise to the surface and float or drift in the wind and currents. This is called drift algae. There are several different types of the algae in our area — the dominant species are the red algae chondria atropurpurea, gracilaria caudata, hypnea spinella and soleria filiformis. These are known as attached and drift seaweeds in Florida. There are more than 230 known species worldwide. As the algaes eutrophy (expand because of excess nutrients), these patches turn black and release sulfides that produce unpleasant odors and can contaminate our beaches and waterways. Since Charlotte Harbor and the surrounding area cover over 200 square miles, with mostly mangrove shoreline, this type of algae can be found in all waterways, some more than others.

On the positive side, these drifting biomasses are transportation for invertebrates and other marine life, which use it as food and habitat. I have found hundreds of small shrimp and crab, as well as some seahorses, traveling on and around this yucky stuff. Dinoflagellates are a hot topic in these parts as they can produce red tide, which affects human and animal respiratory systems.

Educate yourselves on what is around you, don’t take rumors to be truth and most of all, enjoy our great outdoors. Pitch in with coastal cleanups, as well as volunteering to preach common-sense ecology. Set an example for our future generations by giving them solutions, not problems. Ask not what our planet can do for you, instead ask what can you do for our planet.

Till next time, fair winds, clear skies and calm seas. ¦

— Capt. Dennis Kirk has been traveling the Peace River since 1979 and is part owner of the Nav-A-Gator, a riverfront restaurant and marina in Lake Suzy, just off Kings Highway. For more information, call 627-3474.

in the know
>>What: 16th annual Peace River cleanup
>>When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday,
June 5 and 6
>>Where: Nav-A-Gator
>>Cost: Free, with free entertainment at Nav-AGator
starting at 2 p.m.
>>Info: Bring your own boat, canoe or kayak.
Nav-A-Gator has a limited number available for
the day’s use.
. Bring gloves, trash bags and anything else to
help with the effort.
. Womack Sanitation is donating the use of a
dumpster for the weekend.
. Mosaic is donating “I cleaned the Peace River”
T-shirts for the first 100 participants. Call 627-
3474 for more details.

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