Stab Magazine | Why Does Kelly Slater Think "Everything Is Dying" In His Home State Of Florida?
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Why Does Kelly Slater Think “Everything Is Dying” In His Home State Of Florida?

Maybe because it is?

news // Aug 11, 2018
Words by stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Florida is currently in a state of natural disaster.

But there are no hurricanes nor wildfires responsible for the chaos. No tornadoes, tsunamis, landslides, or hail storms to blame.

If you believe many of Florida’s leading marine biologists and algae experts, this natural disaster is being caused almost entirely by humans, and primarily by one human-run corporation – U.S. Sugar.

Here’s the gist:

Screen Shot 2018 08 09 at 11.59.04 PM

We’d prefer it if the ocean kept all of its slimy, disgusting creatures to itself thank you! Photo: @kellyslater

Every year, Florida’s back waterways are speckled green with a naturally occuring cyanobacteria. At the same time, a naturally occurring algae (red tide) forms miles off the coast. While these organisms are both considered toxic to marine life and even humans, their typically limited quantities and life-spans allow them to have only a small effect on Florida’s coastal and inter-coastal ecosystems.

But in 2018, Florida is facing unsustainable levels of both the inland bacteria and the coastal red tide, causing fish, turtles, dolphins, and manatees to die at unprecedented levels, their carcasses clumping together and turning beaches and bays into mass marine graves.  

Reasons behind the inland and coastal blooms are hotly debated, especially in regards to U.S. Sugar’s role. We found Nat Geo’s take to be the most explanatory and level-headed.

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Imagine the suffering this poor guy endured before gasping his last painful breath. Photo: @kellyslater

In regard to the inland issue (cyanobacteria), they said:

Runoff from cattle farms and residential developments that lie north of the state’s largest freshwater body, Lake Okeechobee, carries in nutrients, turning its waters into a thick green smoothie.

Development and sugar farms south of the lake prevent the natural trickling and filtering of overflow through the Everglades. Instead, to prevent flooding of nearby towns, heavy rains force engineers to release polluted water into the estuaries that lead out to the sea.

In regard to the coastal issue (red tide), they said:

Many researchers believe the algae feeds on the nutrient-rich agricultural runoff from land, causing it to stick around for longer and rage more intensely. Some researchers say more study is needed to know for sure. But others say it’s cause and effect.

What’s more, recent exceptional red tide years seem to follow massive storms. Both 2004 and 2005 were intense hurricane years in Florida, with multiple storms crisscrossing the state. Tons of rain and thus nutrient-rich runoff flooded into the Gulf. And then in 2005, a 17-month long red tide—the longest in Florida’s records—gripped the state. Hurricane Irma blew through in 2017, which again led to massive runoff that perhaps is driving this latest bloom, says Bartleson*. Scientists predict that as the climate changes, such storms will become even more intense and frequent, which could spell trouble for the future.

*Florida has been in its current state of red tide since October 2017 – a total of 10 months.

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One can’t imagine the stench. Photo: @kellyslater

As you can see, there are a number of potential causes behind Florida’s double-water toxicity issue – some are directly human-created, others are vaguely human-affected, while others are entirely natural. But whatever the reasons behind this tragedy, many of Florida’s beaches and inland waterways have become uninhabitable for animals, un-vacationable for tourists, and perhaps most importantly to the selfish and wave-obsessed among us, unsurfable for… surfers.

According to reports on the ground, just being in relative proximity to the red tide causes an uncomfortable stinging in the nose, throat, and lungs.

“It’s like a mild pepper spray” said CNN correspondent Bill Weir.

All of this became too much for the 11x World Champion and Florida-native Kelly Slater to bear – not because he particularly cares to surf in the Sunshine State again, but because he’s an animal lover and, well… Florida is home.

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In a recent Instagram post, Kelly poured his heart through his finger tips, tapping away at the novel-like masterpiece below:

#SouthFlorida has been inundated with a toxic algae infestation directly tied to the #BigSugar industry. They’re in a state of emergency. Dead manatees, turtles, dolphins, fish, etc. inundating beaches and waterways has become the norm as of late. Some shark migrations have also dwindled offshore. A small snippet from one news article reads….’On issue after issue, regulators, legislators and governors have erred on the side of softening the impact of adverse rules and regulations on cane growers and other powerful and polluting agriculture interests, including cattle operations north of Lake Okeechobee. The sugar industry beat back a voter-approved amendment that would have forced it to pay for cleaning up its own nutrient-rich runoff into the Everglades, instead shifting much of the cost to taxpayers. Etc, etc, etc’. When boats hit manatees they create speed limits and slow zones but when the whole place goes south and everything dies, nobody seems to be doing much to fix it, seemingly due to the players at hand and their power in influencing state government decisions.

On a separate issue, The #IndianRiverLagoon system in #CentralFlorida suffers from pesticide runoff, sewage overflows (20M gallons of raw sewage spilled/released into the rivers during Hurricane Irma), and brown algae caused from a number of different sources killing sea grass which feeds and protects manatees, fish, and crustaceans. Oysters, clams, scallops, and fish have been dying en masse for years in water devoid of oxygen that looks more like olive-brown/red chocolate soup. The bloom in the #CocoaBeach area has been going on so long it’s hard to remember the last time our canals and rivers were clear. As kids we ate fish and clams from the rivers. Today, I wouldn’t even think about it. In 2013, 50 dolphins, 111 manatees, and around 300 pelicans died in the Indian River Lagoon. This year looks to be starting with prime conditions for algal blooms earlier in the summer.

I’m not sure what the solutions are and I can’t seem to get any solid info about what’s being done to resolve the problems. Maybe this is a good place to start and get to the right people.

Thoughts? #EverythingsDying

A few days later, Stab reached out to Kelly to offer our sincere condolences and ask what, if anything, is being done to rectify this situation.

I think we’ll find out in the next few weeks and months if anything tangible is gonna be done,” Slater said. “It sounds horribly sad. My friend’s brother got run off a high tide line in Sanibel area just for being there by a cop. He said the smell was so foul it was unbearable. Some places are really getting fucked up. It’s all so sad.”

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