Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency over the nine-month-old Red Tide algae bloom Monday, offering money to deploy more biologists to save wildlife as well as to help rebuild tourism in places where tourists have abandoned the beaches.
Scott's emergency order includes more than just Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota and Manatee, the counties where the algae bloom has been killing fish, turtles, manatees and, possibly, 11 dolphins and a whale shark. The governor also includes Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, even though so far the Red Tide has not put in a confirmed appearance in either location.
Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis said those two counties were included because they are considered "at risk" of being hit by the bloom in the near future.
The bloom began back in November, making it the longest bloom in the past decade. It now covers about 120 miles of coastline and recently moved northward. As of the end of last week it had reached Anna Maria Island just south of Tampa Bay but did not continue any further north.
A news release from Scott's office said his order will free up $500,000 for the state's tourism agency, Visit Florida, to establish an emergency grant program and a new marketing campaign to help local communities hit hard by the bloom and subsequent fish kills "continue to bring in the visitors."
The marketing campaign would be aimed at helping those communities rebuild their tourism after the bloom is over, not while it's still going on, Lewis said.
Scott's action also will send more than $100,000 to Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, which has been on the front lines of the algae bloom. Scott's office said the money would enable the lab to "deploy additional scientists to assist local efforts to save animals affected" by the bloom.
Two state agencies, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, already have provided $100,000 in additional funding to Mote to support efforts to rescue dolphins, sea turtles and manatees impaired by the Red Tide's toxins.
Lee County will get the most funding under the new order, as Scott added another $900,000 in grants for cleaning up all the dead wildlife on its beaches to bring its total state funding to more than $1.3 million.
No one knows what sets off a Red Tide bloom, which usually begins 10 to 40 miles offshore and then moves nearer to the beach thanks to winds and currents. However, once the bloom is near land, it can be fueled by pollution from septic tank and sewage leaks, as well as fertilizer from farms and suburban lawns.
This is the second emergency order sent out by Scott, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, to deal with a toxic algae bloom this summer. The first one targeted the blue-green algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee and its adjoining waterways.
Scott and other politicians who have accepted campaign contributions from the sugar industry have been blamed by some critics for being part of the problem not the solution. Scott has tried to focus blame on the federal government and his opponent, Sen. Bill Nelson.