We've suspected this all along. Through independent scientific research, corroborative evidence demonstrates that excess freshwater discharges laden with nutrients act as a catalyst for the proliferation, frequency and duration of red drift algae and red tide in our back bays and near-shore water.
Ray Judah
Lee County Commissioner
District 3
New Research

A study released on March 14, 2006, suggests that improved management of freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee, combined with nutrient removal strategies for sewage within the Caloosahatchee River drainage basin, could help mitigate future outbreaks of harmful macroalgal blooms - outbreaks of algae that can be seen without a microscope. While the study doesn't directly deal with red tide, it suggests that land-based nutrients influence red tide outbreaks.

The report, developed by Brian Lapointe and Bradley Bedford of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Fort Pierce, was financed by a $38,000 grant from Bonita Springs, Sanibel, Fort Myers Beach, and the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau.

Among its findings are:

  • In the United States, scientists and policymakers recognize that a wide range of problems plaguing near-shore waters can be tied, directly or indirectly, to nutrient over-enrichment. Nutrient pollution is the common thread that links an array of problems, including a depletion of oxygen levels in the water, harmful algal blooms, bio-invasions, fish kills, shellfish poisonings, loss of seagrass and kelp beds, coral reef die-off, emerging marine diseases, and marine mammal and seabird deaths.
  • Macroalgal blooms have increased globally in recent decades as a result of increased nutrient enrichment and a drop in oxygen levels in coastal waters. In Lee County, this problem reached a critical stage in 2003 and 2004, when massive drift rhodophyte blooms washed ashore between Sanibel Island and Bonita Springs, making beaches unsuitable for recreation and requiring an expensive removal program. In fiscal year 2003-2004, Lee County spent $260,000 for drift algae removal.
  • Nutrient enrichment comes from both the Caloosahatchee River basin and Lake Okeechobee. The study concludes that algal blooms that occur during the wet season are caused by releases from the Lake, but blooms during the dry season are caused by nutrients entering the River west of the Lake. Both the Lake and River Basin must be cleaned up to improve water quality in Lee County.

To view a copy of the complete report, click here

Stories From Your Neighbors

One way to truly understand the impact that freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee are having on Lee County is to hear your neighbors’ experiences. Those who live on or near the Caloosahatchee River are really seeing the effects first-hand. Here are their stories.

Read Local Stories

Tell Us Your Story

To tell us your tale, email us at mywaterstory@leegov.com. And thanks for taking time to help us better understand the scope of what’s happening to us all.

Send Your Story

Related Links

South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force:

South Florida Water Management District:

More Links


Phosphorus [P]:
An element or nutrient required for energy production in living organisms; distributed into the environment mostly as phosphates by agricultural runoff and life cycles; frequently the limiting factor for growth of microbes and plants.

Blue-Green Algae:
A type of algae natural to our area that blooms in the climatic and nutrient conditions it finds favorable.

Go to the Glossary