Would Tides by any other Name Smell so Stinky?


What is coarse, toxic, sweeps up marine life in its wake and kills? If you guessed a broom, we’re done here. If you answered pollution, you’re close. If you said red tides, you’re dead on. Never heard of this menacing algae? Let me introduce you.

Every summer at the height of tourist season, a tangle of brownish algae and dead fish cascades onto the Gulf Coast’s pristine beaches; the stink is overwhelming. My mother used to say “That’s enough to gag a maggot.” What makes these algae such a menace? They produce one of the deadliest toxins known to man.


“Beach Buddies” 16×20 mixed media on canvas

These harmful algal blooms or HABS wreak havoc on local fishing industries to the tune of $82 million each year. The toxins effect the central nervous system of fish, killing them in vast numbers; limiting the quantities of fresh fish that fisheries depend on. Toxins also may poison shellfish like clams, oysters, and mussels, and make the humans who eat them sick.

The red tide masses effect marine ecosystems in a number of ways. Dense blooms can block sunlight that benefit good algae and sea grasses needed for food. Wildlife and marine mammals like seabirds, manatees, turtles and dolphins may get sick or even die. Humans may suffer severe respiratory or skin ailments. In addition to that, red tides are downright unsightly.

My first reaction to walking on the beach after a red tide wash up was repulsion. Hundreds of stinky dead fish trapped in strange-looking seaweed covered the white sand driving me and many other tourists back to our hotels. Like them, I wanted to know what this stuff was, what it did, and how we could stop it.

Sea Swirls

“Sea Swirls” 24×18 acrylic on canvas

Red tides are composed of microscopic algae known as dinoflagellates; their scientific name: karenia brevis. The algal cells are asexual. They produce simply by dividing. To complicate matters, each cell is capable of movement via two flagella that propels them through the water. There is no brainwork involved in this confluence or joining of forces. They drift with the water’s ebb and flow, bumping together to form large clumps or “blooms” as their numbers increase.

What makes dinoflagellates different from other microscopic algae? At least two things: their rapid growth and their toxicity both of which raise more questions than answers. Why do these organisms suddenly explode into a massive growing binge? What triggers this growth and why does it produce toxins in some algae and not in others?

Biologists and scientists believe pollution of our waterways may be the leading factor. Pesticides, fertilizers and chemicals are washed into surrounding rivers and lakes and eventually find their way into the sea. At the mouth of these inlets and tributaries, red tides get their first burst of growth which certainly points to pollution as the cause.

But there’s a catch: red tides are not a new phenomenon. Fish kills from deadly algae were recorded in 1840 and as long ago as the Spanish explorers who wrote about them in their logs. After years of red tides research, there is still no conclusive evidence or link to pollution. Like many quirks of nature, the trigger may be from natural causes or a series of events that are little understood.

Sea Nymph

“Sea Nymph” 24 x 18 acrylic on canvas

The Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) in Florida conducts Red Tide Reports on a regular basis during critical growing periods. Using satellite imagery, high levels of chlorophyll are monitored for possible resurgence of red tides. With the help of modern technology, experts record the size, rate of growth, and location of these HABS.

FWRI works in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Commerce. NOAA’s goal is to “provide the tools to prevent, control, or mitigate the occurrence of HABS.” Because red algae can be found in almost any waterway, research labs are positioned worldwide.

If you would like information about red tides in your own locale, go to   noaa.gov.

What is the missing component that explains why red tides grow faster and wilder during certain times of the year? Is pollution the cause as some suggest? Or is it increased water temperature that naturally encourages the growth of most algae? Until the mystery is solved, Gulf residents and vacationers around the globe must continue to endure the irritation, the blight and the stink of red tides.

Natural Sponges are a Gift from the Sea



One of my favorite places to visit is the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Often we go there just for the food. We love to order lamb at a Greek restaurant and get dessert afterward at one of their delightful and scrumptious bakeries. We also like the ambiance of the shops and the sound of sea water slapping the bobbing boats. Mixed with the smells of florals and food is the hint of sea salt in the air.

If you’re game, you can go out on a sponge boat and watch them bring up a net full, or you can stroll down the sidewalk and choose a sponge from the many varieties and sizes available. The most popular sponge is the natural yellow (shown above). This type is firm and “very absorbent with a dense cell structure that facilitates exfoliation while bathing and showering.” They are also durable and long lasting.


Then there is the “premium wool” sponge that is the softest, most reliable and absorbent sponge available. Premium wool sponges are firm and close packed. The natural “sea grass” sponge is less expensive and normally used in cleaning or in arts and crafts work, such as faux, etc..


People should be more like sponges:

  • Dependable. Just as a sponge soaks up the water and moisture around it, we should thirst for knowledge and absorb the good things of the earth that have already been discovered and written about. It’s alarming that many people in our nation and around the world do not read. They are trapped by ignorance and afraid to wander far from their birthplace. Most have never read the Bible and remain in spiritual darkness.

    There are those who lack the faith or even a belief in God and refuse to study His word. Yet the evidences from eye-witnesses and historians from the past have documented and testified of God’s existence and His life upon the earth in the person of Jesus Christ.

    What if scholars and curious minds had refused to read Newton’s words or to benefit from Pasteur’s discoveries and Plato’s wisdom, would we have had the building blocks and the foundation to build civilizations, produce products, and benefit from the conveniences and inventions that we enjoy today? Why then do some people avoid the benefits of God’s perfect wisdom and treat His word and His wisdom with such contempt and disregard?

  • Enduring. Sponges are useful. They have a function, and they are efficient. They have a purpose in life. They were meant to assist and to serve. They perform that service just by being themselves. They are well-designed and last a long time. They’re not quitters. We can learn something from them about being content with who we are. Like a sponge, we can make ourselves useful to others and to society. We can outlast our grievances. We can creatively change our state of mind to conform to changing circumstances. We can soak up knowledge and share it with others.
  • Purposeful. Sponges know how to “get down and dirty.” They’re not opposed to hard work and their compositional make-up never tires. They have what it takes when the going gets rough. They’re not wimpy. They are tough.

    We should keep our own minds open and porous to receive ideas and information. We can become tireless advocates for truth and right. We can be purveyors of good will and, when necessary, sop up the sorrow and pain of others through assistance and a listening ear. We can soothe the wounded soul and washout the heartache of neglect and ignorance. We can soak up hurts and bathe the broken hearted with our own tears. We can learn a lot from the sponge.

"Broken" mixed media on canvas; SOLD, but prints available.

“Broken” mixed media on canvas; SOLD, but prints available.

If you would like to learn more about sponges, go to:

Gulf Coast Sponges

Sometimes Amazing Things are Right Under our Nose

Randy Wayne White, author of the Doc Ford Mystery Novels

Randy Wayne White, author of the Doc Ford Mystery Novels

When I was in rehab after having rotator cuff surgery on my right shoulder, I learned that my physical therapist worked as a Chef evenings and weekends at a restaurant called Doc Ford’s. Through my therapist, I discovered who Doc Ford was (a character in a novel), and why the author was so important to this establishment.


Today there are three Doc Ford restaurants: the first on Sanibel Island, the 2nd on Fort Myers Beach, and the third on Captiva Island; all three within a short distance from my home.

On the Doc Ford’s web site, Randy gives an informal bio on his life and works: “Before I started writing novels, I used to sell fish right here where you’re sitting -well, in this building, anyway.

“For more than 12 years, I was a light-tackle fishing guide just down the road at Tarpon Bay Marina. I did more than 3,000 charters; spent 300 days a year boating these waters. When my clients chose not to keep what they’d caught, I’d load the fish in my pickup, tap on the back door of this place, and ask the chef if he was in a buying mood.

“I love the symmetry of that; I helped provide seafood here way back in the 1970’s, and now, because I’ve joined this excellent team of restaurateurs and staff, I have the opportunity to play a small role in providing fresh fish here once again.

“So welcome to Doc Ford’s. Just as my novels are inspired by these islands, my days on the water, and the people I came to know, the spirit of this fine sports bar was inspired by the marine biologist who is the main character of those novels.

“Doc Ford is the baseball-loving, tropical adventurer who – not so surprisingly – has spent a lot of time in the same far flung places that I wrote about when I was monthly columnist for places such as Cuba, Cambodia, South Africa, Australia, Vietnam, Borneo, and all over South and Central America. It was while traveling for that I came to know and love the superb cuisine of the rural tropics.

“I loved the sauces, the spices, and the passion that went into the food preparation. We hope that spirit is part of Doc Ford’s Sanibel Rum Bar and Grille, too. But the real hearts, heads and souls behind this establishment, though, aren’t fictional. They are real people; people savvy enough to envision a whole new concept in bars. “A rum bar? What’s a rum bar?” We were asked.

“They are people creative enough to design an entirely different kind of sports bar concept. ‘You’re gonna have gourmet finger foods? Sports bars don’t serve great food,’ we were told. Well, this one does.

“So credit Marty and Brenda Harrity, and Mark Marinello, along with Chef Greg Nelson for having the vision, and then finding the energy, taste and chutzpah to make that vision reality.

“Being with them reminds me of my old marina family, back when I was a fishing guide at Tarpon Bay. They’re quirky and fun and gifted. They’ve made it work, and I’m proud to have played a small part.

–Randy Wayne White

"Hey, Coconut, Mon" mixed media on canvas

“Hey, Coconut, Mon” mixed media on canvas

Randy’s novels feature marine biologist Dr. Marion Ford, quirky pal Tomlinson, and his friends at Dinkin’s Bay. The Doc Ford novels have enjoyed a growing cult following since the first book appeared in 1990.

Randy’s eighteenth novel, NIGHT VISION, was published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in the Spring of 2011 to reviews that continue to cement his position as “one of the hottest writers in America” (Booklist). His previous novels, BLACK WIDOW, HUNTER’S MOON, DARK LIGHT, EVERGLADES, TWELVE MILE LIMIT, SHARK RIVER, TEN THOUSAND ISLANDS, THE MANGROVE COAST, NORTH OF HAVANA, CAPTIVA, and others have accumulated devoted fans worldwide. About Randy, the Denver Post wrote “He is a major new talent who has produced a virtually perfect piece of work.” The Tampa Tribune called Randy, “the rightful heir to John D. MacDonald.”

A collection of essays, Batfishing in the Rainforest also received excellent reviews. Paul Theroux (author of The Mosquito Coast) wrote: “Batfishing in the Rainforest contains equal parts of comedy and courage. Randy White is not simply a wonderful writer; he is a fishing guide of genius.”


Randy was a monthly columnist for Outside Magazine, and traveled the world, writing about natural history, archaeology, anthropology, travel and politics. He covered the America’s Cup in Australia, and has written about Africa, Sumatra, Singapore, Central America, Vietnam, Borneo, Malaysia, the Caribbean, and South America. He has dog sledded in Alaska and brought back refugees from Cuba.


Never Fear, Spring is Near and so is the Mating Game


Sell Art Online


We saw our first cluster of lavender flowers from the jacaranda trees this morning. Winter came early to Florida, and the warm February temperatures have brought these early bloomers out. The jasmine are already sending forth their heavy perfume and the trees are budding leaves as fast as they shed them.

The mating season will soon be underway. Once I drove into a parking lot and nearly mowed down a great egret that was wandering about in a drunken erotical swagger. In the movie Bambi, Disney’s Thumper called it “twitterpated;” and by the flashy green down between the egret’s eyes and bill, I had to agree with that spunky rabbit.

Being twitterpated is not limited to birds. Alligators get downright mean and nasty when the urge to mate overtakes them. One lusty gator saw its reflection in the sliding glass door of a local resident and pursued the image aggressively thinking it was a prospective mate. The terrified homeowner called animal control when the twitterpated reptile stood upright against the glass to “get a little closer.” Lucky for her the door held until local authorities arrived.

One memorable morning, a “testy” gator proceeded to crawl across the road in front of me. Apparently a grate at the edge of the pond prevented the gator from swimming under the roadway to the other side, presumably, to meet its prospective mate. The gator drew quite a crowd as it hissed and snarled across the asphalt, warning passersby to stay their distance.

Even anoles get in the act; pumping their bright red throat fans to impress the opposite sex. This undulating process goes on all summer and into fall as these lizard-like creatures mate and nest. During the winter months, anoles and lizards hibernate, and I rarely see them scurrying across my path.

Love bugs are another southern phenomenon. These red-headed black bugs spend their entire adult life copulating. The male and female attach themselves at the rear and remain that way even while flying. They splatter themselves over windshields and car radiators from April through May.

Shortly after mating, the love bug male dies; but that doesn’t dampen the female’s incredible urge to reproduce. She simply drags her dead mate around until she lays her eggs in the grass; and then she dies, most likely from exhaustion. Her eggs will hatch in the warmth of rotting grass mulch and become the next season’s wave of love-bugs.

Squirrels in my neighborhood get downright silly during the mating season, which usually happens two or three times a year. They showoff, turn backward somersaults, and play games like “twitch” the tail and “tag you’re it!”

For two seasons running, squirrels built their nest in our cabbage palm. The mated pair cleaned and secured their nest in the spiked bark that protruded from the top of the tree. Their nest included escape tunnels and front and back points of entry.

During the gestation period, all was quiet except for excursions, in turns, by the parents to obtain food. After about two plus weeks of silence, three babies appeared. The youngsters brazenly crept to the edge of the palm fronds that made up their front porch and peeked over the side. Before long, they were chasing each other through the tunnels and playing “hump” games in preparation for future mating and nesting experiences of their own.

When the squirrel mama decided her litter was ready for life outside the nest, she carried each baby by the scruff of its neck much the same way a cat carries its kittens. One by one the tiny squirrels were transported to a nearby live oak. The process was repeated until all three babes were safe.

Two families of squirrels were born and nurtured in my cabbage palm, and then hurricane Charlie whipped through the area and scattered the nesting bark to the far winds. Many times the squirrels and their offspring returned perplexed, sniffing and searching my cabbage palm for evidence of their former home. I miss those squirrels.

The Brazilian Pepper Tree Saga

Berry Picking Time 16 x 20 oil on canvas

Berry Picking Time 16 x 20 oil on canvas

The Brazilian-pepper tree, alias Christmas-berry tree or Florida Holly, is an attractive shrub that sprouts red berries part of the year, grows tall, and spreads wide. When I first moved to Florida, I enjoyed watching the wide variety of birds that fluttered in their branches. So when the landscape crew attacked them with machetes and axes, I was enraged. Had we come to this in our obsession for perfectly trimmed hedges and weed free lawns, I thought?

Yes, I would later acknowledge, the Brazilian-pepper bushes were beginning to take over the hedgerow, and their absence meant that I could now see the field behind where cows grazed with cattle egret; but what about the birds? Hadn’t the pepper’s branches been food and refuge for the brown thrashers, the cardinals, the northern bobwhites and robins, the local mocking birds?

Before I launched into assault mode, I did some reading and investigating; turns out, that attractive Brazilian pepper is considered “one of the worst exotic pest plants” in the State of Florida. Wouldn’t you know!

Brought here from Brazil in the 1800s, the plant was used as an ornamental for its beautiful red berries and shiny green leaves. Deceivingly charming, the plant is part of the poison ivy, oak and sumac family that many people are allergic to. When crushed, the leaves smell like turpentine and can irritate the skin, nose and lungs. No wonder my allergies had flared up in Florida.

Birds also become drunk from eating the fermented berries and may harm themselves by flying into windows or oncoming traffic. Migrating birds are especially vulnerable as they devour the tempting red berries to restore body fat.

Why is the plant so prolific? Bingo: “the pepper grows well in poor soil and shade,” and spreads wildly when the conditions for growth are optimum – plenty of sunshine, plenty of rain. Birds and raccoons find the berries delicious and spread the seeds through their guano and scat.

How is that a threat to Florida?

  • The pepper tree shades out native plants
  • The pepper destroys foraging areas for herons, egrets and other water birds
  • The pepper’s roots get so thoroughly tangled up with mangrove roots that it’s impossible to uproot them

The beautiful Brazilian-pepper is on Florida’s “do not plant” list, and its “sale is against the law.” And I thought it was a harmless shrub; if looks could kill.

Today I smile as I walk past the hedgerow. Young leaves are sprouting, filling in naked branches replenished by sun and space. The peppers are sprawled out behind them; roots exposed, leaves withering, on their last gasp. Sadly, a few yards south, a fence with a stand of pepper trees grows rampant; the property of another developer who will eventually face the removal of this encroaching invader.