Big trouble on reefs off Sarasota Fl

August 2005
From: "pam" <>
To: "Nancy Rabalais" <>
Subject: Re: big trouble on reefs off Sarasota Fl
Date: Tue, 9 Aug 2005 01:01:05 -0400
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 6.00.2900.2180
X-OriginalArrivalTime: 09 Aug 2005 04:52:40.0764 (UTC) FILETIME=
Dear Dr. Rabalais, 
Carl Deaver, a marine field biologist whom works with the FWC was with me today surveying and securing bottom sediment samples, water column oxygen values and tissue samples.  We made 4 dives along a 10 mile course and on the three deepest dives found no life signs on the reefs.  The corals had been killed and bleached white, the sponges were all dead, and the finfish were absent.  On the shallow dive we saw finfish, however, as on the deeper dives the bivalves, crustaceans. mollusks and worms were so reduced that we could not collect a single tissue sample.  Oxygen values on the bottom were as low as 1.1.  The smell of sulpher was omnipresent, even through our dive masks.  The water irritated our exposed skin where our wet suits failed to seal. 
Certainly hypoxia is in place.  As for sinking and decomposing, there’s nothing left at those sites to perish.  It is all gone.   Dive shop reports from south of my location at Longboat Key indicate similar conditions. Things are also bad 50 miles north of me.  This killing happened fast and hard in my area.  The test results from our dives and from the others from last weekend might be available from Jennifer Wheaton’s office at the FWC at
There are more dives planned this week.  I would like to find the extent of the damage.  If you’re interested I’ll send you updates.
Many Thanks,
Captain Wayne
—– Original Message —–
To: pam
Sent:Tuesday, August 09, 200512:01 AM
Subject: Re: big trouble on reefs off Sarasota Fl
Dear Captain Genthner

It is likely that the red tide is killing animals because of the toxin it produces.  There is also the possibility that there is so much that it is sinking and decomposing and creating low oxygen at the bottom and in that way killing fish.  The former is more likely than the latter.  If someone is taking both toxin and oxygen measurements, then perhaps the potential cause can be pinpointed.

Nancy Rabalais

At 11:47 PM 8/6/2005, you wrote:

Dear Dr. Rabalais,
I was referred to you by  Dr. Andrew Salow from Woods Hole. 
I am a charter fishing and eco touring operator out of Longboat Key Florida.  I single hand captain over 450 excursions per year on bay and near coastal waters west of Longboat PassFlorida.  My academic background is concentrated in  meteorology and environmental studies.  I have been observing and documenting environmental changes in my area for over 25 years and I think our shallow reefs are in big trouble and some may in fact be lost.
The west coast of Florida from BocaGrandePass to TampaBay has experienced a strong and persistent red tide event which had been ongoing since last December and to a lesser extent for six months prior to that in isolated distributions. This event has been particularly troublesome with the majority of the fish kills having been confined to Sarasota and Palma Sola bay and along the beaches on the barrier islands.  That continues unabated. however since July 1 the Gulf in our area has been a sea of rotting corpses.  Mature Logger Head sea turtles, Goliath grouper and numerous large barracuda have been dispatched along with other reef fish, bait fish and other top predators.   I undertook a series of bio diversity recon dives last week to gauge the impact on my fishery and what I witnessed horrified me.  I communicated my observations to the FWC (Florida Wildlife Commission) and to Dr. Pierce at Mote Marine at Lido Key.  The FWC is sending collection teams out this weekend to dive and sample several reported offshore sites 25 miles north of my area to determine the geographic extent of the problem.  I’ve volunteered my vessel to transport a team on Monday to a couple of the discovery sites I reported in the e-mail correspondence thread to these parties.  Today the dive shop reports indicated severe reef damage as far south as Venice.  Please examine my e-mail correspondence to the local authorities.
If the lower water column tests acutely hypoxic and the reefs are as severely impacted as I have observed, are we witnessing the synthesis of another dead zone? 
Captain Wayne Genthner
 Dear Captain Genthner:  Thank you for sending this information about the
effects of red tide on reef communities.  It is very helpful to have
such observations and locations reported.  There have been documented
reef kills in the past, but not as much information as we would like.

Although this is a very intensive red tide, it is not (yet) as bad as
the ones we experienced in 1985-87, and then again in 1994-96.
Our red tide research is focusing on red tides and water quality from
Tampa Bay to Naples and up to 30 miles off shore. The funding we presently
have supports a 3-day cruise every 6 weeks, followed by many weeks of
sample analyses and data interpretation. This provides a lot of
information, but do not have all that we need. For example, we have no
funding to monitor reefs, so your observations are very important.

Mote is also developing automated red tide sensors for continuous
monitoring along the coast to provide the real-time information
needed to address the questions about red tide development and
movement as well as contributing factors.

Thank you for sending this information.
Sincerely, Richard Pierce

Richard H. Pierce, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist and Director
Center for Ecotoxicology
Mote Marine Laboratory, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway
Sarasota, FL 34236
(941) 388-4441

Views expressed are personal and do not reflect Mote policy
unless so stated.

On Thu, 4 Aug 2005, Michael Henry wrote:

> Would you like to respond to this one….?
> ————————————————————–
> Michael S. Henry
> Staff Scientist
> Mote Marine Laboratory
> 1600 Thompson Parkway
> Sarasota, FL 34236-1096
> Phone 941.388.4441 Ext 320
> Fax 941.388.4312
> Web
> ———- Forwarded message ———-
> Date: Thu, 4 Aug 2005 00:44:42 -0400
> From:
> To:
> Cc: pamWayne <>
> Subject: big problems on the reefs
> Dear folks at Mote,
> I thought it best to inform you of the observations I have been taking concerning reef health in the local near coastal waters.  I have included my correspondence with the FWC.
> I am concerned that we are now witnessing a un -natural disaster of epic proportions.  I have been observing the effects of red tide on bottom reef fish and biota for over 20 years and I have never experienced anything as bio destructive as this current  event in the Gulf.    There may be more at play here than red tide and serious sampling is indicated.
> Question:  Have you had any of your staff diving and documenting out on these reefs?  If so where have they been surveying?  If the bio.  web at these sites I have studied is fully compromised then do we have a dead zone on our door step?  It sure seems that way to me.  Last week I surveyed wrecks and lime stone structure from 100 yards out from shore at Bradenton Beach to areas out 2 nautical miles from Longboat pass.  I saw no living creature at over 7 dives sites;  not a crab, mollusk, worm, bottom finfish or bivalve remained viable.   If you examine my communication with the FWC you will notice a certain hideous repeatability in the latest observations.    It would be easier to find a live tap dancing dinosaur who could also fix the brakes on an Audi sedan than to find a live fish where I was today or last week.  This used to be a nice place to live and work.
> Captain Wayne Genthner
> Dear Howard,
> Thanks for your reply.  The information the divers gave to you is useful.  It is important to get as much data as possible on the geographic extent of this fish kill.  However, I believe that it is more than just a simple loss of a few fish.  Today I scuba surveyed eight separate reef/ledge systems starting at 42′ -47′  deep.  They are located out 225 degrees from Longboat Pass offshore 7 nautical miles.   Last June 2005 I surveyed these areas to gauge the biodiversity and general health of the corral, crustaceans, bivalves and finfish.  All of these sites were relatively vibrant with life, even the corrals were doing well given the proximity to shore and the water quality issues they deal with.  There were many stone crabs, slipper lobsters, tube worms, queen, spider crabs, bi-valves, pink anemone and numerous bottom species of finfish along with some very toothy and aggressive top predators.  The midwater column had Spanish sardines, thread herring and cigar minnows.  In short all was well.
> Today I could not find one single living creature on any of the ledges.  Every crab, finfish, mollusk, bivalve, and tube worm was missing or dead.  All of the enormous queen conch which I have watched grow over the past 20 years were dead with the putrefied remains still inside the shell.  Some of these specimens measure almost a foot in diameter, they are ancient and they died this week or last week.  The plant life was also absent as were any of the typical clicking sounds generated by shrimp and spider crabs.  There were crab carcasses all over the reef however they were fully intact and demonstrated no sign of predation on them by scavengers.  Another thing which I found odd was a substance which coated the corrals and limestone in a fragile black or red mesh which dissipated with a light fin stroke back wash.  The corral had also taken a hit and might be in trouble as well.  Not only was the bottom devoid of life but I could find none of the large zoo plankton in the crystal clear upper water column.  As for the bottom water column, it was like swimming through a septic tank with the vis at about 4 feet.
> After examining these reefs I went a bit deeper and northwest  four nautical miles at 310 degrees to an area in 52′ of water.  I experienced the exact same thing.  I then went three nautical miles at 355 degrees and again the same dead bottom.  I then went 355 degree for three more miles and again the same dead bottom.  While traveling this route I encountered over 25 Goliath carcasses.  It appears that the web of life from top to bottom has been annihilated at these sites.  I found no life signs on the route either.
> I was astounded and heartbroken.  I simply can’t believe that a normal red tide could do this without human/chemical augmentation.   If you plot out this course then calculate the square miles and consider the lost bioproductivity you will probably be nauseated.  From what I hear at the dive shops it’s this way all the way to shore and south all the way to Casey key.  Friday I will survey out of Longboat pass out 290 degrees but I’m not getting my hopes up.
> Captain Wayne Genthner
> —– Original Message —–
>   From: FishandWildLifeHealth
>   To:
>   Sent: Wednesday, August 03, 2005 5:43 AM
>   Subject: RE: fish kills offshore 7/31
>   Morning Captain…
>   We received reports from two scuba divers also reporting the bottom being covered with dead fish.
>   We are certain it is from the Red Tide – which is particularly heavy this season. The hurricane
>   that went by had much influence on this as the wind and waves is what breaks up the Red Tide
>   cells releasing the toxin that paralyzes the fishes gills suffocating them.
>   I have lived here all my life – 50+ years and this is the absolute worse I have ever seen it……..
>   thanks for the report
>   Howard Brown
>   Fish and Wildlife Health Database Manager
>   Inshore Marine Monitoring and Assessment Program
>   Fish and Wildlife Research Institute  and
>   Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
>   100 8th Avenue SE
>   St. Petersburg, FL  33701
>    ><((((º>
> ——————————————————————————
>   From: []>   Sent: Tuesday, August 02, 2005 9:52 AM
>   To: FishandWildLifeHealth
>   Subject: fish kills offshore 7/31
>   Last Sunday I took some friends out for a day of fishing out 245 degrees from Longboat Pass for a distance of 19n miles.  There were fish kills all along the way.  We saw many key West Grunts, Red and Gag grouper and many Puffer fish.  When we arrived at the fishing site we couldn’t get a single bite.  The fish finder was showing lots of fish and so I dove down to see what was going on.  The water was 80 feet deep.  The first 20 feet the vis was 30 feet and then the next 20 feet the vis dropped to 3 feet in the bloom.  At 40 feet the bloom cleared at the thermocline and the vis returned to about 15 feet.  At  the thermocline I encountered massive schools of mangrove snapper mixed with all sizes of gag grouper and angel fish.  The fish behaved oddly.  They constantly swam up and down through the water column beneath the thermocline.  They made no attempt to evade me.  Closer to the bottom I found schools of large key west grunts swimming in the same erratic up and down pattern through the lower water column..  The odd thing about them was that all the large ones had their mouths open wide and didn’t seem to have the ability to close them, even after I lightly brushed them with my hand or my spear tip.  On the bottom I saw a couple of dead hog fish and absolutly no small bait fish.  There were a couple of red grouper that didn’t behave like the gags at all. They just meandered about right on the ledge and also made no attempt to evade me.
>   This was all very disturbing.  The next dive site I went to was 75 feet deep and the same fish behavior was observed.  There were several fresh killed french grunts and tropical fish dead on the bottom and at least a hundred grouper and a thousand snapper swimming well off the bottom in tight schools.
>   What’s going on with these fish?
>   Captain Wayne Genthner