Wait, you’re not going to drink that, are you? (Or swim in it or even touch it?)

Photo by Chase Conley, from Facebook

The water is trying to kill you.

The Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, plus Florida’s rivers and springs and lakes and streams and sloughs and marshes and creeks and sinks, can be–and often are–deadly.

Wait, you’re not going to drink that, are you? What comes out of Florida’s taps can be a bit iffy, what with coliform bacteria and runoff from superfund sites. Arsenic, too, and sometimes just good old salt: rising sea levels mean contaminated wells.

Rum’s safer.

Like to boat on the St. Johns or the Caloosahatchee or the St. Lucie or the Santa Fe? Don’t touch the water. Blue-green algae is living large in our rivers and it’s poisonous. Stuff causes nasty skin rashes, diarrhea, liver problems, and respiratory stress. The fish don’t like it, either. You can tell by the way they’re floating belly up in protest.

Big Paper and Big Ag blame lawn fertilizer and septic tanks for the noisome, nutrient-rich runoff choking our water bodies; people with septic tanks and lush lawns blame Big Paper and Big Ag.

They’re all correct. In late April, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a “Blue-Green Algae Task Force” to study the problem, which, to Florida politicians, is almost as good as actually doing something about it.

Way cheaper, too.

Fancy a swim in one of Florida’s 30,000 lakes? You might want to rethink that: in May, an alligator bit a woman blamelessly splashing around in a Brevard County lake. At Lost Lake near Tallahassee, a fellow had to rescue his five-year-old granddaughter from a gator attack.

The more people invade once-wild parts of  Florida, the more alligator issues they’ll have. See it from the gator’s point of view: you moved from Ohio in 2012; he’s been here 8 million years.

Maybe you want to head to the beach this summer, say, in beautiful Walton County? Don’t. You won’t even get within wading distance without some out-of-state yahoo running you off what he imagines is “his” sand.

I refer, of course, to former Arkansas governor and property rights hysteric Mike Huckabee, who lobbied the malodorous Rick Scott to sign a beach restriction bill in 2018.

Huckabee’s upset about vicious crimes against Christian decency right in front of his $6 million mansion, including boozing, fornication (he found a used condom once), and the public sitting on the personal, private, exclusive beach chairs reserved for the righteous butts of kinfolk such as Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the second most famous liar in Washington, and pals such as Ted Nugent and Karl Rove.

To be fair, Huckabee’s house does look like a three-story Motel 6, so maybe the public figured the guy might come out in a minute and take their beer order.

Moreover, that sand Ol’ Huckster’s laying claim to? We, the citizens of Florida, paid for beach re-nourishment. That’s our sand.

But say you make it to the warm waves of the Gulf (thanks to our climate crisis, they’re very warm: one reason Hurricane Michael was so destructive). You go for a lovely swim. This is assuming there aren’t thousands of dead fish, birds and turtles from red tide stinking up the shore.

Careful: there’s flesh-eating bacteria in that water.

Doctors in Sarasota diagnosed necrotizing fasciitis in one lady who’d been at Siesta Key in May. Another woman noticed her leg swelling up and turning red half an hour after swimming in the Gulf, and a 12 year-old who’d been in the water at Destin in June needed three surgeries.

Medical professionals say if you can be sure you have no cuts, scratches or nicks on you anywhere you’ll be fine. Probably.

These bacteria are always in the water, they’re natural. But they thrive in the ever-hotter Gulf, and lower salinity caused from all that freshwater runoff from overdevelopment means they grow extra big and strong and mean.

You could always try the Atlantic coast, though chances are you’ll encounter blue-green algae, red tide and odoriferous seaweed over there, too.

Also, sharks. One bit a kid at Daytona just the other day.

Still think we can just screw around with our environment and get off scot- free?

Still think we can cut and pave and drain and dredge and spew toxins and greenhouse gases for 150 years with no consequences?

Still think we can outsmart outraged Nature?

Think again. In Florida, Nature bats last.


Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She lives in Tallahassee, except for the times she runs off to Great Britain, desperate for a different government to satirize.


  1. Yes, but if we build all those new toll roads, we can flee the state and move somewhere safe like, say, California.

    • Great job, Diane. Keep up the excellent journalism. The saracastic Deniers (A) do not live near the FL coastlines, rivers, or lakes (B) are not well educated, (C) could care less about anything having to do with preserving or improving the environment, (D) don’t have children or grandchildren living in Florida, (E) get their thrills from being obnoxious, disgusting trolls, or (E) All of the above. Somebody, please give them a tall glass of that water to drink! Ignore them, Diane.


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