The awful smell of dead fish across Tampa Bay cries out for a better response. Red Tide is overwhelming St. Petersburg, and the damage to the fisheries, tourism and public health is increasing with no end in sight. State and local officials need to collaborate on the cleanup. Residents, visitors and businesses need to be kept informed. And Florida needs a better strategy for managing these toxic algal blooms. Red Tide may be in Florida to stay, but there are ways to soften the blow.
Governments must work together. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman used a news conference Wednesday to call attention to the worsening situation and appeal for the governor’s help. That prompted a sharp rebuke from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office and a snarky exchange over who called whom. What is this, sixth grade? Nobody cares about the mayor or governor scoring political points. St. Petersburg has worked tirelessly; crews have picked up nearly 500 tons of dead marine life from the coastline in recent weeks, accounting for the vast majority of the 600 tons of dead fish collected across Pinellas County. And the state has brought critical resources to bear. But none of it’s enough. There are high levels of Red Tide throughout the bay, deep in the water column, and models show the bloom will stick around. And not only Pinellas is affected; over the past week, high concentrations of Red Tide were found across Florida’s west coast, including in Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties. Both state and local agencies have an obligation to get the cleanup effort in higher gear.
Keep the public informed. Nothing is more important to tamping down concerns and maintaining public faith in the state’s response than keeping the community informed. State and local officials need to be visible, meet publicly to answer questions and offer straight information so that people can protect their health, businesses or property. Red Tide has reached not only Pinellas’ gulf beaches, but inland estuaries and waterways, where the fish-killing toxins are entangling dead marine life on public and private property alike, and causing people even blocks from the water to suffer from inflamed eyes, scratchy throats and difficulty breathing. And the circulation of the bay is not likely to flush out the Red Tide soon, meaning the region could be impacted for weeks or months. The public needs help dealing with all that uncertainty. Tourists will need to know what’s safe and open. Residents and property owners need to know the state of the cleanup effort. And businesses, especially in the fishing and hospitality industries, need to see the government acting proactively to protect their livelihoods.
Limit manmade damage. We know that Red Tide occurs naturally. We also know that humans compound the problem. Runoff from sewage breaks and fertilizer-laden lawns and farms gives these blooms the nutrient-rich diet to explode. Other contributors to the spread of Red Tide include a warming planet, the loss of water-filtering wetlands to development, and coastal construction. So given these predictable factors, and the inevitability of Florida growing, what is the state’s long-term strategy to mitigate these outbreaks? Voluntary measures are not enough; industries must be required to reduce their pollutant footprint, state regulators must stand more squarely with science and lawmakers must provide the funding to address the environmental neglect. Hotels, restaurants, charter boat operators and others in the tourist industry still digging out from the pandemic now face a new threat to their futures. These businesses are essential to the Florida economy, and like public health and property, they are worth protecting. But it takes a conscious commitment.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.