Dear Vox writer Rachel Durose: Stop with all that red tide science, for your own good

by | Apr 16, 2023

In a stunning display of journalistic objectivity, writer Rachel Durose somehow found a way to publish a scientifically-sound analysis of Florida’s red tide problem while avoiding the increasingly popular political blame game that is ever present in the narratives originating from within Florida’s incestuous media circles. It’s not immediately obvious whether Durose was aware of the politically-charged rhetoric and courageously chose to ignore it, or if she’s just a naive reporter who didn’t realize that the consequences of her story will likely result in a free scholarship to a progressive re-education camp so that she can learn to report “properly” in the future.

Either way, she deserves credit for putting forward a solid scientific explanation for the driving forces that cause red tide in the Sunshine State.

Durose’s headfirst dive into the murky reddish-stained waters of algae blooms is refreshingly candid, focusing on the natural causes of red tide before going deeper still into the ways human activity makes the blooms even worse. As she points out, red tides are primarily triggered by a complex interplay of environmental factors beginning with dust from the Sahara Desert in Africa. Rich in iron, the dust is carried by winds across the Atlantic Ocean and deposited into the Gulf of Mexico. Once there, blue-green algae utilize the iron to produce nutrients, promoting the growth of a bacteria known as Karenia brevis, the microscopic organism responsible for red tide blooms.

Even then, Durose explains, the mere presence of Karenia brevi is not enough to cause a full-blown red tide event. That still requires a complex set of environmental conditions to bring these algae from the deeper waters of the Gulf to Florida’s shoreline. Strong winds, warm temperatures, high salinity, and nutrient-rich waters all play a crucial role in creating the ideal conditions for a red tide bloom.

Durose’s article highlights several significant factors that fuel the algae’s growth: leaky septic tanks, lawn fertilizer and yes, agricultural runoff.  But as Durose also found during her research, many scientists are sounding the alarm bell, shifting attention away from the politically-charged fight against agriculture, and toward the real culprit: septic systems. In a low-lying state like Florida, even moderate rains can cause the underground water table to rise above the typical installation depth of a septic system. That means even brand-new systems can contribute to the problem, helping to leak nutrients into the water, effectively giving algae blooms an all-you-can-eat buffet.

The science is easy to understand and getting harder to ignore. Florida just isn’t ideal for septic systems. And a 2021 study by Florida Atlantic University explains how the narrative is starting to shift:

For more than a decade, fertilizer leaching and associated stormwater runoff were thought to be the major drivers of harmful algal blooms in Florida’s Indian River Lagoon. Despite the numerous residential fertilizer ordinances passed since 2011, water quality, harmful algal blooms, and seagrass loss, which has resulted in mass deaths of the threatened Florida manatee, have continued to worsen.

There are more than 300,000 septic systems permitted in six counties adjacent to the 156-mile-long Indian River Lagoon, which makes up 40 percent of Florida’s eastern coast, and in Indian River and Martin counties, septic systems represent more than 50 percent of wastewater disposal. Five inlets allow the lagoon’s waters to drain into the ocean, potentially impacting another important Florida ecosystem.   

Keep in mind that the FAU study only looks at the immediate surrounding area near an annual algae bloom hotspot – and not at the rest of the state, particularly in central Florida’s watershed area, where rain falls daily, soaks into the soil, picks up lawn fertilizers and septic system runoff, and makes its way south into Lake Okeechobee. There are close to 3 million septic systems installed across the state, with 90,000 in Orange County alone, and high concentrations all along the waterways the impact algae blooms plaguing our state. The University of Florida even provided a map to visualize the locations of all those septic systems in their own report on the scope of the problem.

Of course, in politics, when toxic algae is clogging beaches and waterways, the politicians, political operatives and environmental activist groups in South Florida know better than to blame the  millions of people who rely on septic systems for causing the problem. After all, many of those septic tank users are also voters who prefer the long finger of blame be pointed somewhere else.

And so it’s much better politically, or in the case of environmental groups like the Everglades Foundation, Captains for Clean Water, and their vast network of “philanthropic” dark money donors to instead identify a scapegoat that can’t vote, and then blame the scapegoat for the problem. They then push that narrative to Florida’s sympathetic environmental journalists, who print their rhetoric without asking hard questions about the actual underlying science. That, in a nutshell, is why Florida’s sugar farmers get the lion’s share of the political blame in the media, despite the fact that the hard science points in a different direction.

Consider this telling quote from Alex Gillen, who was once briefly the executive director of the Friends of the Everglades, which recently merged with Bullsugar. In a 2019 interview, Gillen said the quiet part out loud:

“We know the science, but the problem is political, and we need a political solution.”

Indeed, that’s the very heart of the problem in Florida – politics trumping the hard facts. And it’s why Durose’s story at Vox is such a breath of fresh air. Rather than getting sucked into the vortex of dark-money-fueled political rhetoric, Durose flies above it and remains firmly fixated on the facts. But how dare she allow the reader to conclude that sugar farmers are not the diabolical masterminds behind the state’s algae bloom catastrophes?

If Durose hasn’t already been chewed up, spat out, and re-educated, she likely will be, soon. That’s because many mainstream media outlets get oodles of financial or partnership assistance from the constellation of progressive or left-leaning non-profit organizations that form one of the largest dark-money political operations in the nation. And they don’t generally like it when one of their own reporters goes “off-message.”

We’ve previously documented the way these groups pull in millions and sometimes billions of dollars in cash from wealthy donors to support “environmental causes,” and then perform their dark money dance, transfering cash to one organization or another, until it becomes impossible to tell who’s paying for what. But ultimately, the dark money ends up going to pay for a reporter at a legacy media outlet, or a year-long “sabbatical” at some left-wing environmental institute where they are indoctrinated into progressive orthodoxy, or often, the cash is used to pay for an in-depth “investigation” through a partnership with mainstream media outlet to give the “findings” some legitimacy. Sometimes the scheme involves all three.

We’ve seen it all before and we’ve called it out for what it is.

Apparently, though, Rachel Durose didn’t get the memo, or she somehow slipped through the cracks.

Rachel, if you’re reading this: take heed. The political hacks of Florida’s environmental movement are coming for you. They can’t let science trump political considerations. And you’ve upset their apple cart.


  1. CaptTurbo

    I’m wondering how much tax payer subsidize (via the corrupt Farm Bill) US Sugar paid to purchase this load of “science”?

    • Brian Burgess

      Said the septic tank owner.

  2. An Actual Engineer

    Who says pimping aint easy. Nice pivot from FPL’s Bit*h to Big Sugars.

    How much did they pay to have us jump the shark to believe that agricultural runoff doesnt dwarf all other factors in both quantity and adverse quality.

  3. Robert Himschoot

    If Durose had a brain, she should check out what a septic system will and will not perform. First and foremost, septic systems discharge wastewater into a sandfilter…Let’s look at the alternative…send your wastewater to your favorite publicly owned treatment plant. There are 101 permitted plants within the IRL. Only 10 treat to AWT (advanced wastewater treatment…removes N-P) . The balance treat to advanced secondary standards with high disinfectant. Where does this so called treated wastewater go….you guessed it…. the majority is discharged into the waterways of IRL. Now how much….up to 500,000,000 ( yes million) gallons per day of Nitrogen and Phosphorus laden water enters the waters of the IRL. Don’t believe it, do your research on the Florida Department of Environmental website. Then follow up with your regional DEP office for listing of treatment plants in your area. Learn what treatment standards mean. Do your research.

    • Kevin Mooney

      You’re 100% correct about the wastewater! Plus, all one has to do is check the sites where the sludge is disposed from the different treatment plants across the state and then correlate those sites to where the algae blooms develop. It’s clear the problem is not septic systems.

  4. Deborah Coffey

    Nice deflection to septic tanks. You guys keep denying climate change and we will all keep paying the price. The plan was to give all Republicans scholarships to progressive re-education camps but, the Republicans here will have destroyed Florida completely soon so, there won’t be a need.

  5. Ron Kirkland

    Red tide has nothing to do with the new time released fertilizers just dumped on commercial grasss and new subdivisions built in the last wetlands around??? Most folks with septic systems are working fine! See just how much broken sewage lines contribute with huge spills too! Florida does cater to the fertilizer companies especially with contaminated sites. Thats the Politics?

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