ST. PETERSBURG — Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday that the patchy Red Tide bloom off Pinellas County is not like the devastating and persistent algae that hit the area in 2018, and he expects a strong Fourth of July for the local tourism economy.
“This is not 2018,” he said. “I think we see some localized (Red Tide), so check whatever, but this is a great place to be. There’s very few places in this country that are as nice as this Tampa Bay region.”
The governor called the local bloom “splotchy.” His comments came at a roundtable with scientists and state environmental leaders to discuss ongoing work to understand the causes and mitigate the effects of Red Tide.
Participants hailed state efforts they said have improved communication around Red Tide, including a daily sampling map for beachgoers to see exactly where it has been found.
Bloom levels have been detected in recent weeks near Port Manatee, where 215 million gallons of polluted wastewater were pumped this spring into Tampa Bay from the old Piney Point fertilizer plant site, and off several Pinellas County beaches.
A section of the beach by the Dunedin Causeway was closed Thursday to clean up dead fish, according to the county. Workers on boats plucked dead marine life from the water around Dunedin and Clearwater Harbor.
Fish kills have been reported in places including Madeira Beach, Indian Rocks Beach and Sand Key, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Rotting fish Wednesday lay in the sand beside beachgoers at Honeymoon Island.
Glen Steinke, owner of Sail Honeymoon Inc. on Causeway Boulevard, said he’s still renting kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. He drove past a dumpster Thursday where crews were storing dead fish. There was a “slight smell in the air” the previous night from dead fish, he said, but it had disappeared by morning.
“They just had a small crew of guys out with pickups, just picking up dead fish and putting them in 5-gallon buckets,” he said. “It’s not a major event. I just assumed they were preparing in case it moves this way and gets worse. But right now, minimal effect.”
Thomas Frazer, dean of the University of South Florida College of Marine Science reiterated during the roundtable Thursday scientists’ perspective that the Piney Point discharge would not have caused Red Tide to turn up around Tampa Bay. However, excess nutrients in the contaminated water could provide fuel for the organisms in Red Tide, he said, exacerbating a bloom. Researchers are performing lab tests to see if they can trace nitrogen found in algae to nitrogen from Piney Point.
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The 2017-19 Red Tide bloom referenced by the governor devastated Southwest Florida, killing large numbers of fish and undercutting the region’s bedrock tourism industry.
Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, the public tourism agency in Pinellas, is tracking reports of Red Tide and has asked hotel managers to send word of any cancellations because of the algae to PR@visitspc.com.