Greetings from the Gulf: Mother Nature, are you still accepting apologies?

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I blame you for this.

Oh, don’t worry, I blame myself as well.

I blame he, she, us and them.

In the spirit of southern living, I also blame y’all.

Now that another red tide has pounded us and water-quality issues in general continue to terrorize Florida, I conclude we must be electing the wrong people, or those we supported with good intent can’t push their promises through, or somewhere in between, or all of the above.

Either way, we’re drowning in this.

For starters, let me tell you about the madness involving pollution-heavy Lake Okeechobee to our south.

If it floods, it kills people around it. In fact, thousands died during hurricanes in the 1920s.

So, it was connected to two rivers that sent its polluted discharges both west and east. Remember the horrific red tide of 2018? It started around Fort Myers Beach, where I lived.

OK, so why not send the water south? Aren’t the Everglades drying up?

Yes. But, Tamiami Trail down there was raised to allow easy access for us to get to Miami, causing a dam of sorts. Letting the water through as needed was a forgotten concept.

So, why is Lake O so polluted in the first place?

Well, for starters a man-made adjustment toward the bottom of the Kissimmee River, in an effort to limit flooding, resulted in a straight path to keep the water moving. It had none of the filtering that meandering waterways create. So, it’s toxic.

Meanwhile, on the south end of Lake O, sugar fields rule, and the crop requires little water. Thus, excess rainwater that is full of nutrients is actually back-pumped into Lake O.

Then, the dollars allocated for much of this get moved elsewhere during government appropriation time. A different crisis emerges, and since Mother Nature has no voice, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

I paid a pretty penny to live across the street from the gulf while on Fort Myers Beach, and I barely put a toe in the water. It was often gross.

And here I was a guy who grew up loving to be neck-high in the gulf for hours off Siesta Key.

The Piney Point fiasco in Palmetto this past spring, which fueled this latest algae bloom and fish kill, is similar in nature.

Oops, sorry nature. I take that back — nature wants nothing to do with this.

Was Piney Point the result of neglect? Incompetence? Bad luck?

Doesn’t matter. It happened on our watch. And with one incident after another, isn’t the clock ticking on our environment’s lifeline? Sure seems to be.

I ask that all of us, once and for all, go back to a grassroots effort and insist on environmental stewardship. If the basics are an essential part of our everyday life, kind of like brushing one’s teeth, the issues will eventually become a part of our very soul.

Big foul-ups will no longer be tolerated. We won’t just shrug.

Hey, haven’t we recently seen nationwide overhauls on how we view all sorts of social and cultural matters?

Mother Nature, I hope you’re next on our permanent radar. Without our birth mom, none of us would be here. Without the planet’s mom, we won’t last here.

So, do you recycle? It may seem like a token effort with all of these big-picture atrocities going on, but doesn’t it at least send a message to our kids? Aren’t they the ones who will hopefully save our outdoors? We old-timers already blew it.

I hope the environment becomes so important to them that anything less than TLC for it is viewed as B.S.

By the way, if you don’t think your plastic water bottles don’t find their way to the Gulf, you’re wrong.

In fact, an innovative company is being featured in this issue that uses ocean litter to create bikinis. Sadly, it has plenty of materials with which to work.

I was at a bar in Redington Shores in Pinellas County a few years back and the joint sold individual bottles of beer and water. One by one, the bartender tossed them in the trash. I inquired about that, and she said they had no choice because the recycling vendors gouge them beyond affordability. So, they gave up.

Greed first, green last.

Locally, Sarasota County employees often clean out the WaterGoats nets that catch litter. A recent effort along Phillippi Creek in our back yard produced 60 pounds of floatable trash. It included a volleyball, a football, and a plastic liner from the inside of a refrigerator door.

The staff reported that 75% of that material could have been recycled at the time it was discarded. 

Remember the ads from the ‘70s where the Native American cried about what he saw? A tear today doesn’t cut it. Falling to the knees and sobbing sounds about right.

Ad Council, please bring back a similar ad. Heck, you can shoot it on our beach at the end of any holiday weekend.

Speaking of which, those who walk the Key might know about Sandra, who is better known as “The Keeper of the Key.” Every single morning, she walks all of Crescent Beach with a mesh laundry bag she says she empties twice, on average, of litter. She asked for no recognition, but she is someone whom I insist gets a few sentences for what she does.

Better yet, she turns over her findings to local resident David Skaggs who shapes it all into an artform. An alligator, a princess, you name it.

Those sunglasses lens that are always falling out? They become gills for a fish.

Those 90-degree metal tent stakes? They are quills for a porcupine.

Now this is more like it. Most anything can be repurposed. Sustainability. Creativity. Ingenuity.

Check out

On Sept. 18 we had an organized beach cleanup here, one of three per year. Shouldn’t they be monthly?

Those inspired to become an environmental steward should know we have a civic group that is very active with this cause. Contact the Siesta Key Association and ask how you can get involved in a myriad of projects.

And to think we just had a great spring, with all the accolades about being open for business and the nation’s No. 1 destination for both tourists and new residents. Record numbers were arriving. Property values skyrocketed.

However, another wave of coronavirus arrived, and Florida was deemed the worst scenario in the nation. Then, the red tide arrived.

It’s as if we needed to be booted off our high horse.

And once again a clever spoof on Facebook caught my eye, this time courtesy of some Austin Powers characters.

“Floridians are still partying … Send in the red tide!” 

We deserve a bit of ribbing. After all, Florida is the envy of America. And Siesta Key is a bucket-list destination for many.

Let those pails and shovels be used for sand castles, not dead fish.

Siesta Key is at a crossroads in many ways. Don’t kid yourself — this is one of them.

Be a person who helps send us in the right direction.

As for you, mom, we don’t dare ask that you remain patient with us. Too late.

It’s time we got our act together.

(John Morton is managing editor of  Siesta Sand.)

John Morton
Author: John Morton

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