I take it personally, this Red Tide thing. I have walked miles on Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches, talking to birds, singing with dolphins, dancing under a sky wide open and alive with wheeling gulls and often over-arched with rainbows. It is a world I love, this western edge of the sandbar the Spanish named for flowers. Such breath taking beauty. And now, often breath-less.
The narrow stretch of barrier beach between the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida mainland shimmers with life and is filled with color. It is a white sugar-sand and blue-green water world bordered by purplish-green sea grape and darkly fringed palmetto, gifted with daily sunsets
that drench the sky in shades of gold, orange, and red. The delicate blooms of plumeria and exuberant hibiscus are many shades of red as well. And the beaks and eyes of certain of the birdly visitors who come to fish in the Gulf’s clear water, they are a shocking red too.
I have had long conversations with blue herons, snowy egrets, orange billed terns, and little green parrots. I’ve stood in awe watching plummeting brown pelicans snatching dinner from the Gulf. I’ve tracked yellow-eyed ospreys, fish hanging from their hooked beaks, returning to their permanent nests on rooftops. I have watched the cormorants elegantly spreading their shining brown-black wings to dry in the sun. And the unlikely looking oyster catchers with their black and white feathers, pink legs, long, brilliant orange-red beaks and eyes featuring concentric circles of black, yellow and red, always make me laugh.
But the blue-green Gulf water has turned bloody, at least metaphorically. For a long time, only on occasion did the water’s algae over-bloom, turning toxic, killing the sea life. But lately the balance has shifted and there is an ongoing, unnatural incoming tide, caused in part by run-off from Florida’s corporate farms in the interior. Red Tide, they call it. Thousands of fish, along with sea turtles and other creatures whose home is the ocean, die in wider and wider swaths of the warmer and warmer water which has literally been infiltrated by the polluted run-off.Do those birds I have come to love die too? They live on the fish. It is, after all, an interlocking eco-system. Unlike the sea creatures, birds can leave for other shores, some fortunate place as yet untouched by unrelenting heat and insatiable human greed. How much of that liminal world of beach and mangrove swamp, palmetto and plumeria, with its resident and itinerant wild life, will be left for our children? A red monster is eating it. One could say it is the stuff of fairy tale, but, alas, Red Tide is real.
Regina Ress, Roaming Writers Group, Santa Fe Written in response to the painting Red Tide by Diane Remington Global Warming is Real Exhibit, The Museum of Encaustic Art, Santa Fe, NM September, 2019