Dr. Bruce Neill, Ph.D. of the Sanibel Sea School exerted his passion about the ocean and his studies with red tide during the Greater Fort Myers Beach Area Chamber of Commerce Thursday at Shoals Restaurant in the Sandy Butler at 17650 San Carlos Blvd.
Neill, co-founder of the nonprofit institution with wife, Evelyn, used an interactive approach littered with statistics in his discussion.
"It's an amazing time to study the ocean. Most people in the world assume they know about the ocean, but 92 percent of the ocean has never, ever had a human being in it," he said.
Dr. Bruce Neill, Ph.D. of the Sanibel Sea School discusses red tide during the FMB Chamber luncheon at Shoals Restaurant Thursday.
Neill pointed out that 72 percent of the world is covered by water. Yet, while the depth of the deepest part of the ocean is 350,000 feet, studies of it have only stretched to only 5,000 feet below the surface.
"We really live on an ocean planet," he said. "After all these thousands of years of inhabiting this planet, we are just getting a new world view of the ocean. What we are recognizing is that the ocean looks like a patchwork quilt of fairly separate bodies of water."
Neill grew up in Miami and gained an earlier understanding of the importance of protecting our planet's oceans and ecosystems. As a child, he snorkeled the seagrass beds, mangroves and coral reefs of south Florida and the Bahamas. That led to his obtaining a master's degree in the biology of coral reefs and a philosophy doctorate in conservation biology.
At Sanibel Sea School, his staff promotes marine conservation through experiential education. That education leads to children's experience in Gulf waters where they are leery to explore in depth due to a natural yet unacquainted fear of sharks.
"Almost every kid in the world is afraid of sharks, and every time I put a kid out in the water they say, 'Is a shark going to bite me'? In 2010, 800 people in the United States were killed by toasters, while four were killed by sharks," said Neill. "You are 200 times more likely to be killed by your toaster than you are by a shark."
The discussion turned to the difference between red tide and red drift algae.
"Red tide is formed by a microscopic form of phytoplankton and classified by scientists as Karenia brevis," said Neill. "There are about eight different species of red tide. It has absolutely nothing to do with the tides. There are sometimes hundreds of millions of (single-celled protists) per liter that makes the water red. When they die, their toxins leak out into the water and are consumed into the food chain and kill the fish you see dead on shore."
Red tide toxins generally only kill fish and other marine animals, but can have respiratory effects on beach goers when they become airborne. Just don't eat anything you find dead on the beach or anywhere else for that matter.
Red drift alga is a larger species in a variety of colors (red, green and brown) that can be seen by the naked eye and occurs naturally in the environment.
"We are fertilizing the ocean out of the Caloosahatchee River, our yards and out of our toilets. When we dump tons of fertilizer, a lot of algae grows," said Neill. "Sometimes the algae breaks off the bottom of the ocean and washes on shore."
Sanibel Sea School believes in the power of the "blue generation -ocean-loving individuals who take stewardship seriously." Unfortunately, in the era of electronics and social media, the majority of children stay indoors and do not seem to get enough fresh air and appreciate the environment.
"We are increasingly raising a generation of kids that never go outside," said Neill. 'In 30 years, we will have real environmental problems if this keeps up."