Red tide strikes again. Manatee residents find dead shark, thousands of fish floating behind their homes in Bowlees Creek
Gov. Rick Scott called for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to take even more action against red tide.
In a letter to FWC Chairman Bo Rivard, the governor expressed gratitude for what the agency has done so far in terms of monitoring, reporting and responding to the harmful algae bloom, but asked them to do a bit more.
“Working together, we have made tremendous strides in dealing with red tide, However, more must be done,” the governor wrote. “This year’s devastating bloom has left no question — we must increase our efforts to find a cause and solution for naturally occurring red tide.”
Scott urged commissioners to create a Florida Center for Red Tide Research and to re-establish the Florida Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force. The request comes three days after he allocated $1.2 million for the agency’s redfish research and hatching facility at Port Manatee.
In FWC’s red tide report released Friday, experts said conditions were between 5 and 25 percent worse in Manatee than last week. Testing showed high inshore concentrations of the Karenia brevis algae strain at Cortez Beach and the Longboat Key Boat Ramp.
One of the 17 Manatee samples came back as a high offshore concentration at Egmont Key. While Sarasota, Pinellas and Charlotte counties all saw red tide levels decrease, FWC officials said they noted an increase in northern Manatee, as well as Lee and Collier counties.
As red tide has continued to ravage Florida’s Gulf Coast, Scott, who is running against Bill Nelson for a Senate seat, has come under fire for a perceived lack of prior action. At a campaign tour stop in Venice, Scott faced stiff opposition from protesters.
Major budget cuts for environmental agencies call Scott’s actions into question. The governor previously called for a decrease in spending at the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and reduced spending at Florida’s five regional water management districts for five straight years. In preparation for the 2018 election year, Scott made an about face and said he wanted to increase environmental spending by $220 million.
The proposed research center would fall under the direction of Florida’s Director of Red Tide Response, a new government position. According to Scott’s idea, the employee would report to the FWC’s executive director and provide interval red tide updates to the public and FWC commissioners.
Florida’s Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force was first called to action about 20 years ago after a particularly devastating red tide bloom killed 151 manatees in 1996. Florida lawmakers reversed their position years later, however, and began defunding the program in 2008, according to a 2009 FWC report.
In his final ask of Rivard, Scott urged the FWC chairman to formally request increased red tide research funding during the next legislative session, noting that since he’s been governor, Florida has invested an average of $2.5 million a year toward research and recovery.
In August, Scott declared a state of emergency for the Gulf Coast. Since then, Scott has directed more than $13 million in grant funding for areas affected by red tide and blue-green algae, including $500,000 for Visit Florida’s tourism marketing, $100,000 for Mote Marine Laboratory’s research efforts and $750,000 in support money for Manatee County.