Fabiola Santiago

Poop, sargassum, flesh-eating bacteria in ocean waters. What a stinky summer, Florida! | Opinion

Sargassum on Miami Beach has residents and city officials looking for solutions

Sargassum has made a return on parts of Miami Beach and residents and city officials are looking for solutions to rid their beaches of the pesky seaweed. Sargassum often collects trash, pesky critters and emits a strong odor.
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Sargassum has made a return on parts of Miami Beach and residents and city officials are looking for solutions to rid their beaches of the pesky seaweed. Sargassum often collects trash, pesky critters and emits a strong odor.

The “what I did this summer” compositions have a lot of educational potential this year, teachers.

Going back to school may be a relief after a quite the stinky summer on Florida’s beaches.

Poop, sargassum and flesh-eating bacteria are thriving in waters warmer than usual, putting a major damper on vacations and setting the stage for what should be the first lesson of the school year: the effects of climate change.

The only place to be this summer in Florida: inland and indoors.

Trust me on this one.

When you vacation in the allegedly paradisaical Sunshine State, the only thing assured by warming Mother Earth these days is a cancer-inducing sunburn.

But clean, clear waters, my dear friends, seems to be a thing of many years past. Vintage material. A past you yearn for; “oh, how I love summer,” I wrote many moons ago.

In Miami-Dade alone, we’ve had several alerts of high levels of fecal matter — better known as poop — in some of the most popular beaches: Crandon Park, South Beach, and this week, Bal Harbour and Haulover after a sewage spill.

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When we’re not swimming in caca in South Florida, we’re drowning in excessive levels of sargassum — a darker, nastier form of the regular bothersome seaweed that leaves you scratching private places in public.

The county sargassum cleanup of the shore — a little too late for kids returning to school this week in Broward and next week in Miami-Dade — has helped some.

But more is offshore, and people have been left with no confidence that the waters are safe.

“I’m a little afraid to go into the water even though it looked really inviting today,” reported a friend who shuttles between her suburban home and an apartment on the beach near Lincoln Road and had never seen the seaweed as bad as this year’s.

But, hey, we can always look at seaweed, chamber of commerce-style, on the positive side: At least we’ve had no reports here of flesh-eating bacteria deaths from swimming at the beach.

Upstate, however, there have been several cases.

A grandmother visiting Coquina Beach in Manatee County scraped her left leg in the water, contracted the disease, and died a week and a half later.

A 66-year-old man from Tennessee died after contracting the necrotizing fasciitis while vacationing in Okaloosa County and swimming in some of Fort Walton Beach and Destin’s most popular beaches.

Florida health department officials were quick to declare those beaches open and safe but warned that people with weak immune systems shouldn’t swim if they have cuts or sores.

But, who doesn’t cut shaving? And what person over 60 and under 10 doesn’t catch whatever is going around? What kid doesn’t have chapped skin from some form of eczema or just a plain old boo-boo somewhere?

One in three people die from the infection, the Centers for Disease Control reports. There have been 700 to 1,200 cases since 2010, the CDC says on its website, calling it “likely an underestimate.”

It’s scary stuff, and we’re only beginning to feel such effects of climate change.

We shouldn’t underestimate the situation even if Florida set a tourism record last year, welcoming 126.1 million out-of-state visitors, the eighth consecutive record year for the state, according to Visit Florida.

Kids can play happily in a mud puddle if necessary, but for the adults who know better, this summer’s beach vacation disappointed.

Still, you yearn for that idyllic beach of decades past.

You spot something online with potential to accommodate two adults and three kids in Pompano Beach for the last weekend.

You’re paying a considerable price — more than $250 a night when you add parking fees and taxes — but the super helpful reservation agent assures you these are renovated digs with a partial ocean view for your sanity and a kitchenette for the little ones.

It’s a half-truth.

The room is modern, clean, and spacious — more than you can say for your stay in Florida’s Emerald Coast, where the kids declared the June grass in Fort Walton Beach and Destin “nasty” and the oceanfront room had a barrier wall in front of it.

This partial view was generous, and from a high floor, it all looked, oh, so Florida nice.

You throw the bags in the room and dash downstairs for the main event — the reason you’re here — the kids squealing with delight, “the beach!”

And then, your eyes can’t believe, literally, this crap.

You can’t swim in that ocean.

It is dark from the excess of sargassum — and the sands also are littered with the brown-black seaweed as far as the eye can see in each direction. The next morning, when you settle for at least a walk, you discover that the closer you get to the quaint lighthouse in the distance, the more unbearable the stench.

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The stench of sargassum is unbearable on this stretch of Pompano Beach, Florida, lined with million-dollar homes and hotels. Fabiola Santiago Fabiola Santiago

We checked out the next day at 6 a.m.

I give up on you, Florida.

The competition with the algae bloom and toxic red tide invasion of last year is stiff.

But the summer of 2019 will go down in the history books as one of the most olfactory-challenged in the Sunshine State.

And for some people, sadly, it was a deadly one, too.

No, the water isn’t safe for all.

Kids are better off in the classroom learning about climate change and writing about the summer of stinky wild things.

Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”
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