Red Tide is a plague on our environment and economy.
It causes eye and respiratory irritation in humans, and, for some vulnerable populations, even worse. It sickens and kills manatees, dolphins, sea turtles and birds. And it leaves our beautiful oceans and waterways discolored and clogged with rotting fish.
Despite this being a naturally occurring phenomenon, outbreaks seem to be getting worse. And yet, there is no consensus as to why that’s the case.
I grew up on the water — the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay are sacred to me and so many others. It provides for our livelihood, our economy and our way of life in Florida. It makes Florida, Florida.
However, sadly, during the last several years, we’ve seen larger and larger outbreaks of the harmful algae Karenia brevis, colloquially known as Red Tide. Conservative estimates put the recent economic damage at approximately $130.6 million in just 12 of Florida’s 67 counties. Business owners were the hardest hit, losing at least $90 million and forcing layoffs of at least 300 hard-working Floridians. This is no longer just a seasonal nuisance, it’s a crisis.
As a Floridian, and as a member of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee and the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, which funds the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), I’m working to get the resources needed to chart a better path forward.
Listening to scientists, economists, and local business owners working on this issue, the one thing I hear over and over again is that we need more science.
To that end, I just secured a $10 million appropriation within NOAA to address harmful algae blooms such as Red Tide. This is a 100 percent increase from previous funds set aside to understand and fight algae blooms.
And it’s just a start.
Florida is the most susceptible state in the union to so many environmental threats, including Red Tide, rising sea levels, global warming and climate change. Many of us have been on the front lines of these battles for decades. And the one thing all experts agree on is that inaction is the worst action.
We can’t simply ignore these problems and expect everything will work itself out.
We are called to be good stewards of our environment. I will continue to fight for more funding, research, and solutions, but I can’t do it alone. I need each and every Floridian serious about protecting our treasured environment and economy to do their part — make sure local, state and federal leaders hear your voices and see your dedication to making sure that the next generation inherits the Florida that makes our state the most beautiful in the world.
After all, about 500 years ago, when Ponce de León arrived here, he named it La Florida, the “place of flowers,” because of our beautiful, lush, and healthy environment. It’s our duty and privilege to keep Florida, Florida.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, represents Clearwater, St. Petersburg and south Pinellas County.