Fight red tide
"Find Solutions to the Unprecedented Red Tides in Southwest Florida."
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"Find Solutions to the Unprecedented Red Tides in Southwest Florida."
Red tide, harmful algal blooms that commonly occur on Florida's Gulf Coast, killed more than 2,400 tons of animals in the 2018 red tide and cost the tourism industry roughly $184 million.
The problem was so severe that when Ron DeSantis ran for governor, he pledged to "find solutions to the unprecedented red tides in southwest Florida" and issue an executive order "re-establishing a task force" dedicated to researching and reporting "the causes and solutions to Florida's red tide crisis."
A single-celled alga species called Karenia brevis, which feeds on nitrogen and phosphorus, causes red tide. The National Ocean Service reports that red tide, which occurs when colonies of these algae grow out of control, can produce toxic effects that can harm people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals and birds. "Red tide is a naturally occurring event off the coast of southwest Florida, but the length and severity of this crisis is unprecedented," read DeSantis' campaign website. "It is imperative Florida finds the underlying cause to this event and works to implement an appropriate solution."
DeSantis has delivered on most of his promise. His biggest action came in June 2019, when he signed into law a sweeping legislative package allocating $3 million annually to the Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative, a research partnership between Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Mote Marine Laboratory. That same year, DeSantis helped create the Center for Red Tide Research at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.
In May, DeSantis allocated almost $14 million more to red tide research, bringing the grand total devoted to fighting the problem to $40 million since he took office. Statewide sampling for the algae has increased by 68% in the last four years, according to DeSantis' office; offshore sampling has doubled.
DeSantis' press secretary also pointed to 2020's SB 712 as affecting red tide. The legislation enacted several reforms recommended by the Blue-Green Algae Task Force to curb nutrient pollution, which can worsen existing red tide.
"I think the first step to solving a problem is understanding the problem and you have to know what you're dealing with," said Matt DePaolis, environmental policy director at the nonprofit Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.
He pointed to a recent study by the foundation and the University of Florida that showed how nitrogen from human sources, such as chemicals from farming, factories and sewage treatment plants, can exacerbate red tide. DePaolis says the next step is working on controlling those factors. Mitigation is the public-facing side of red tide, tamping down its effects, he said, but prevention also matters.
"When you have a red tide, the only thing you can think about in that moment is how do we clean this up?" he said. "The problem is that, when you don't have a red tide, that's when the real work can be done."
Based on the consistent funding for red tide research and DeSantis' specification to start a task force, we rate this Promise Kept.
Sarasota Magazine, New report reveals impacts of 2018 red tide bloom, April 13, 2021
National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, Economic Impacts of 2018 Florida red tide: Airbnb losses and beyond, March 15, 2022
Florida Museum, Red tide: Karenia brevis, July 15, 2018
Ron DeSantis campaign website, Protecting Florida's environment on Day 1
Florida Senate, SB 1552, Filed Feb. 28, 2019
Office of the Governor, Governor Ron DeSantis announces funding to continue supporting red tide research and innovative mitigation technologies, May 4, 2022
Video interview with Matt DePaolis, environmental policy director at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, September 14, 2022
WUSF Public Media, Red handed: The connection between human pollution and Florida's worsening red tide outbreaks, August 1, 2022
Email interview, Jeremy Redfern, deputy press secretary, Executive Office of the Governor, Oct. 14, 2022
Florida Senate, SB 712, Filed Oct. 30, 2019
Florida Senate, SB 712 Analysis, Feb. 24, 2020
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, Florida Red Tide FAQs
A new initiative puts Gov. Ron DeSantis on the path toward his campaign promise to fight red tides in southwest Florida.
The Legislature approved a 2019-20 budget that includes more than $600 million in water projects. Some of that money is specifically meant to research or combat algae blooms.
In June, DeSantis signed SB 1552 to create the Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative, a partnership between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and Mote Marine Laboratory.
The Legislature directed $3 million annually for the program for six years. The bill requires officials to submit an annual report to the governor starting in January 2021.
Separately, the Legislature provided $25 million to research and fight blue-green algae and red tide.
Researchers have a lot of work ahead of them.
While red tide is naturally originating and has existed for centuries, some scientists say that discharge from farms and fertilizer have worsened outbreaks of the harmful algae. Red tide blooms in the Gulf of Mexico are caused by the microscopic organism Karenia brevis, which is not well understood by scientists.
"What causes Karenia brevis to sometimes become extremely abundant to the point that it causes fish kills, etc.?" University of Miami marine biologist Larry Brand said. "There are many hypotheses about this, and there is no agreement among scientists on this. Indicative of this is the fact that we still cannot predict when and where dense blooms are going to develop."
In 2018, Florida faced its worst red tide in more than a decade. The algae produce toxins that kill fish and may make the air difficult to breathe and turn the water red. It is separate from the outbreak of the blue-green algae.
The algae outbreaks have hurt waterside businesses and a tourism industry that relies on drawing people to the beach.
Some environmentalists and scientists have raised questions about whether the state-led initiative will do enough to address prevention.
Brand analyzed data from 1954 to 2002 and concluded that red tide has increased around 15-fold, which he said not be a natural occurrence.
Pollutants created from human activity "do make red tide worse than it would naturally be and more effort should be put into keeping nutrients from getting into our public water bodies to begin with," Brand said.
As the bill moved through the Legislature, the Sierra Club also pushed for more of a focus on prevention.
"The absence of resources directed at prevention strategies will keep Florida on the track of continuing to wait until toxic algae outbreaks hit and hurt Florida's residents before any action is taken," the Sierra Club testified during the legislative session.
We will have to wait years to see the outcome of the initiative and whether it leads to progress in fighting red tide.
But the multimillion dollar initiative is a first step toward the campaign promise by DeSantis.
We rate this promise In the Works.
Gov. Ron DeSantis press release, Governor Ron DeSantis Signs SB 1552 to Mitigate Harmful Effects of Red Tide, June 20, 2019
Gov. Ron DeSantis, Executive order 1912, January 2019
Florida Senate, SB 1552: Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative, July 1, 2019
University of Florida, Understanding Red Tide, Accessed July 14, 2019
News-Press, Red tide counts are still elevated, (Accessed in Nexis) Sept. 13, 2018
Tampa Bay Times, Red tide killer no silver bullet, (Accessed in Nexis) Sept. 27, 2018
Miami Herald, Why won't red tide go away? After Hurricane Michael, toxic algae has again spread, Nov. 6, 2018
Sun Sentinel, Is red tide natural, or is it a human-caused crisis? Oct. 2, 2018
TC Palm, DeSantis taps UF environment director Tom Frazer as Florida's first chief science officer, April 1, 2019
News Service of Florida, Ron DeSantis signs red tide bill, but environmentalists worry there's not enough prevention in it, June 21, 2019
PolitiFact, What role do septic tanks play in the algae bloom crisis in Florida? Aug. 20, 2018
Email interview, Dee Ann Miller, Florida Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman, July 16, 2019
Email interview, Larry Brand, University of Miami Professor, Department of Marine Biology and Ecology - Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, July 12, 2019
Email Interview, Cris Costello, Sierra Club organizing manager, July 12, 2019
Email interview, Deborah L. Foote, Sierra Club Florida government affairs and political director, July 12, 2019