Red tide hit hardest off our beaches. Gov. DeSantis comes here to launch new effort

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed Senate Bill 1552, an effort to bring relief and prevention to the battle against red tide, a notorious algae bloom that plagued Floridians and marine wildlife for more than a year.

A dozen supporters flanked the governor at Mote Marine Laboratory as he signed the bill and established the Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative, along with $3 million in annual funding. Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota; and Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, introduced the bill.

SB 1552 builds on a partnership between Mote Marine and the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, within the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Effective July 1, the agencies are tasked with creating novel, sustainable technology to curb red tide and its harmful impact on public health and Florida’s economy.

“No community felt it as hard as the folks down on our southwest Florida coast,” DeSantis said. “The bloom had devastating effects on wildlife.”

Mote Marine can use a portion of the money for expanded partnerships throughout Florida and the world, especially with organizations that focus on marine science and technology development. No more than 5 percent can be used for Mote’s yearly administrative costs, the bill states.

A report on their victories and priorities is due on Jan. 15, 2021, and every year until the initiative expires in June 2025.

With the bill’s approval, DeSantis also created the Initiative Technology Advisory Council, chaired by the president and chief executive officer of Mote Marine, a position held by Michael Crosby since 2013.

“This initiative provides vital and consistent funding for science-based solutions to red tide impacts, which negatively impact our economy, our environment and, indeed, our quality of life here in Florida,” Crosby said on Thursday.

The council’s future members — people from government agencies, private organizations and public or private research agencies — are required to meet at least twice a year.

The governor will appoint one member from a “private commercial enterprise,” and the Senate president will assign one member from a public or private university in Florida, according to the legislation. The speaker of the House will appoint one member from a “marine environmental organization.”

The secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection will appoint one member from the department, and the executive director of FWC’s research institute will assign one member from the organization.

In its analysis of the bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee highlighted the microscopic organism behind red tide, Karenia brevis, and factors that cause it to bloom.

Sunlight, nutrients, water salinity, wind and currents affect the growth and lifespan of the organism, which originates in the Gulf of Mexico and generally worsens in late summer or early fall, according to the committee’s report.

“There is no demonstrated direct link between nutrient pollution and K. brevis red tide formation or frequency, and red tide has been observed since before Florida’s coastlines were heavily developed. However, once red tides are transported to shore, they are capable of using human-caused nutrient pollution for their growth,” it states.

The effects of red tide were all too apparent on local beaches, where dead fish, turtles, dolphins and manatees washed ashore. Waves broke into the red tide cells and released neurotoxins, irritating residents and persistent tourists.

Manatee County lost several million dollars in visitor spending, according to some estimates.

Speaking at Thursday’s news conference, DeSantis said he would sign the state’s budget either Friday or Monday, including $650,000 for a study on the health effects of red tide, and $4.8 million to establish the Center for Red Tide Research, within the FWC.

In its review of the new red tide initiative, the Senate Appropriations Committee highlighted a need for more proactive efforts.

“Currently, there is no practical and acceptable way to control or kill red tide blooms,” the committee reported.