Florida Enters State of Emergency as Red Tide Blooms Plague Beaches
FLORIDA – August 15, 2018
Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency along the Sunshine State's southern Gulf Coast in response to a pernicious red tide bloom that has lasted longer than any other in the past decade.
In Monday’s statement Gov. Rick Scott said: "Today, I am issuing an emergency declaration to provide significant funding and resources to the communities experiencing red tide, so we can combat its terrible impacts. This includes making additional FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) biologists and scientists available to assist in cleanup and animal rescue.”
The ongoing toxic algae bloom is considered to be the longest red tide outbreak in the Gulf of Mexico in over a decade, and officials say it will most likely last until 2019. Officials say nearly 300 sea turtles have died because of the toxic bloom. Pelicans, manatees and a whale shark have also washed ashore since this unprecedented bloom started.
With Scott's emergency declaration, the state will be able to dedicate more funding and resources to the communities suffering from the effects of the red tide "so we can combat its terrible impacts." The order is in place for Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota, Manatee, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. According to Tampa Bay Times the governor's order declaring the state of emergency, will provide $500,000 for Visit Florida, the state's tourism agency and more than $100,000 to The Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, which researches red tide and helps rescue impaired marine animals.
Lee County, which has been hit particularly hard and where more than 5 tons of dead fish have been removed from beaches, will get an additional $900,000 in grants for more beach cleanups. The county has already received close to $1 million.
"While we fight to learn more about this naturally-occurring phenomenon, we will continue to deploy all state resources and do everything possible to make sure that Gulf Coast residents are safe and area businesses can recover," Scott said in his declaration.
Scientists said Blooms occur where lakes, rivers or near-shore waters have high concentrations of nutrients – in particular, nitrogen and phosphorus. Some lakes and rivers have naturally high nutrient concentrations. However, in Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, man-made nutrient pollution from watersheds is causing the blooms. Very high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus are washing into the water from agricultural lands, leaky septic systems and fertilizer runoff.
Red tides form offshore, and it is not clear whether or to what extent they have become more frequent. When ocean currents carry a red tide to the shore it can intensify, especially where there are abundant nutrients to fuel algae growth. This year, after heavy spring rains and because of discharges of water from Lake Okeechobee, river runoff in southwest Florida brought a large amount of nutrients into near-shore waters of the Gulf of Mexico, which fueled the large red tide.
The red tide on Florida's west coast is not the same type of bloom affecting Lake Okeechobee and its waterways. That is a blue-green algae bloom that forms in fresh water and is caused by cyanobacteria.
Scientists have clearly shown that there is a positive and synergistic relationship between water temperature, nutrients and algal blooms. In a warmer future, with the same level of nutrient pollution, blooms will become harder if not impossible to control. This means that it is urgent to control nutrient inputs to lakes, rivers and estuaries now.
Unfortunately, today the federal government is relaxing environmental regulations in the name of fostering increased development and job creation. But conservation and economic growth are not incompatible. In Florida, a healthy economy depends strongly on a healthy environment, including clean surface waters without these deadly blooms.