There are three water quality crises occurring in our waters. These include red tide, red drift algae and blue-green algae. Please use this page as a resource to help stay up-to-date on the latest news and conditions of our beaches and estuaries. We can assure you that visitor safety is our number one priority, and we are taking the necessary steps to alleviate the impact of some of the problems associated with these issues while working toward long-term solutions.
We encourage you to use this information to make informed decisions about visiting our area, but we also recommend that you reach out to your hotel or lodging contact, as they will be the best source for current conditions at your specific location within our destination.
Red tide, a naturally occurring phenomenon, has been documented along Florida’s Gulf Coast since the 1840s. It typically forms offshore and effects our coast from on-shore winds. When it blooms, it can cause human respiratory problems and kill marine life. Blue-green algae , a freshwater species, grows rapidly and produces a toxic, greenish slick on the water that can irritate skin on contact and cause illness if ingested. Our community also has a third challenge - red drift algae. This type of non-toxic algae originates offshore and can pile up on beaches (resembling seaweed), where it produces a strong odor as it decomposes.
Sadly, red tide persists in the Gulf of Mexico causing a high volume of fish kills and resulting in dead marine life washing onto our beaches. Higher concentrations of red tide can also affect humans, causing both skin irritation and irritation to the respiratory system.
What are we doing to help?
Lee County Parks & Recreation staff has been cleaning county beaches, parks and boat ramps affected by the red tide fish kill in recent days. A debris removal contractor has also been hired to assist in these ongoing efforts. The City of Sanibel, Town of Fort Myers Beach, and Captiva Erosion Prevention District continue clean-up efforts in their areas. The County is in communication with the state to secure all available resources, and is seeking federal assistance as well.
Aug 15, 2018 - Red tide has been detected in Lee County, with reports of respiratory irritation and fish kills. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission updates red tide conditions weekly where specific site locations can be seen: myfwc.com/research/redtide/statewide
You may also go to visitbeaches.org or call 941-BEACHES (232-2437) for more information.
What is red tide?
In Florida, red tide is a naturally occurring microscopic algae called Karenia brevis or K. brevis that is present in background conditions throughout the year in the Gulf of Mexico. It occurs in salt water and when natural conditions are right, the organism can form blooms off the coast producing a toxin that can affect the central nervous systems of fish and wildlife. At high concentrations, the blooms may discolor the water – sometimes red, light or dark green, brown or clear.
How long will it last?
Red tide blooms can last days, weeks or months and can also change daily due to wind conditions. Onshore winds normally bring it near the shore and offshore winds drive it out to sea.
Can people swim in red tide?
Most people can swim in red tide, but it can cause skin irritation and burning eyes. If you experience irritation, get out and thoroughly wash off with fresh water.
What are symptoms from breathing in red tide toxins?
For most people, coughing, sneezing and teary eyes are temporary symptoms. People with chronic respiratory problems, like asthma and COPD should avoid red tide areas.
Can pets swim in red tide?
If your pet swims in a red tide patch at the beach, a thorough freshwater rinse as soon as possible is essential. Don’t let your pet play in any sea foam – the foam has been shown to be more toxic than water.
Red Drift Algae is any number of larger species of algae that can be seen with the naked eye. These species, which vary in color and can be red, brown, green or white, occur naturally in the environment and can sometimes detach from the bottom and wash up along area beaches. These algae are not harmful and are non-toxic, but when they wash up on beaches can smell bad as they decompose.
August 17, 2018 - Gov. Rick Scott on July 9 declared a state emergency regarding algal blooms in seven Florida counties. Blue-green algae is a group of organisms that thrive in freshwater but can be found in saltwater or in mixed brackish water. It is important that adults, children and pets avoid swimming in or drinking water containing blue-green algae. It is best not to come in to contact with water in areas where you see blue-green algae.
Lee County has created a test program to remove the blue-green algae from some of its most impacted waterways. It will remove, process and dispose of harmful algae blooms from select test sites.
Click here for Blue-Green Algae FAQ's.
Click here for additional information issued by the state of Florida.
If you're seeing dark-colored water offshore...
Water runoff from the river watershed and freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee may cause some discoloration of the water from the north end of Fort Myers Beach to the south end of Sanibel Island. This freshwater contains tannins from plants and other organic material that give the water a darker color than it normally appears.
Why is this water being released?
Above-average rainfall creates conditions within Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee River watersheds that results in large volumes of freshwater being discharged into the river and estuary.
How long will it last?
Freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee stop once water levels return to normal. For more information, please visit the South Florida Water Management District.
Please see the live beach cams below that offer visitors a real-time view of our destination complimentary of our partners.
What to do this week
To get you started, here’s a guide to what to do the week of Aug. 13-19, 2018.
Click here for a list of museums, historic sites, tours, live theater, shopping, farmers markets and more that can make your day away from the beach a fun one.