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Hundreds join 'Hands Along the Water'

August 13, 2018
Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

Hundreds of area residents joined hands along the riverfront at the Cape Coral Yacht Club Sunday in solidarity with like-minded peaceful protestors throughout Southwest Florida, decrying the condition of gulf and inland waters.

They were among the thousands of Hands Along the Water participants up and down both coastlines of Florida at at least 30 beaches, many affected by algal blooms and severe fish kills.

Dominique Kuzer, organizer at the Cape Coral event, said the idea was to come together in unity, leaving politics aside.

"We want to give our voice to the water that it doesn't have. It started on a Facebook post. Me and another woman jumped on it and I created it in Cape Coral," Kuzer said. "It just spread like wildfire."

Kuzer and many others have said they have never seen water quality this bad.

In the Calooshatchee and canals in Cape Coral, Pine Island and North Fort Myers, nutrient-heavy, algae-laden discharges from Lake Okeechobee have resulted in shore-to-shore pea-green "blooms" of toxic fish-killing cyanobacteria. The blue-green algae is also befouling the east coast of Florida along and around the St. Lucie River, which experienced a similar devastating "bloom" in 2016.

Meanwhile, along Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and other beach-front communities from Naples to Tampa Bay, there is on-shore outbreak of toxin-producing Karenia brevis, the organism that makes up red tide.

Both algae "blooms" are killing fish by the hundreds of thousands as well as sea turtles, porpoises and manatees.

At the Yacht Club this weekend, there were continuing remnants of the conditions, with some dead fish lying on the algae-speckled beach that has been closed to swimming.

Kathy Pecora moved here three years ago to "live in paradise."

This, she said, is anything but.

"I've seen such a change in the last three years I don't even want to go near the water. It's really sad," Pecora said. "I picked this city because it was supposedly one of the best places to move to. I want the water cleaned up for my generation and others to come."

Shan Davis said they live along a canal, and have been a little luckier than others where the algae is packed in. Still, the stink pretty much keeps them indoors.

"It smells like cow manure. It doesn't seem to be getting the importance it should have. The problem is that I don't know if the rest of Florida gets it," Davis said. "My biggest worry is that people will forget about it."

Susan Brown and Cindy Rooney, members of the Cape Coral New Residents Club, echoed what many have said for the past few months: It has never been this bad, with dead manatees and fish.

"You can't even get into the water because you're going to get sick. Susan has given us the contact information on our congressmen," Brown said. "We've e-mailed Marco Rubio and we're heard back from some of them."

"What we need to do is clean up Lake Okeechobee and change the laws. The governor took away laws designed to protect the environment and the power we had to protect the environment," Rooney said. "It's a multi-faceted situation. Let's get the regulations back in place."

Cindy's husband, Mike, said he hasn't had his boat in the water all year because of seawall repairs needed in the wake of Hurricane Irma and now the algae.

"After the seawall was done, it's not worth putting it out in the water. I can't fish or enjoy the water unless I want to drive 20 miles out into the gulf," Rooney said. "Even then I have to smell it."

Sunday's event took less than a half-hour. Kuzer had everyone line up on the water at 10 a.m. At 10:14, everyone pointed to the water in honor of the marine life before joining hand for about 15 minutes.

During the event people chanted "We want change," and "Clean it up."

Many wore surgical masks and a handful were in costume.

Linda France, a 25-year resident, was there to lend her support and said the grass roots effort was amazing.

"We gathered to speak for the fish and the residents. We're tired of getting kicked in the can so we decided to make a difference," France said. "It's never been this bad and that's why I got involved. We need to clean Lake O and send the water south. I think the local and county government is doing good, but the state and federal have dropped the ball."



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