Florida governor hosts roundtable discussion in St. Pete on red tide

Governor Ron DeSantis made a stop in St. Petersburg to speak with state and local officials about efforts to combat red tide. 

During a roundtable at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Pete, the governor acknowledged that the state's economy is based on its environment, and red tide blooms – like the one in the Bay Area in 2018 – can cause major problems affecting wildlife and tourism. One of the things DeSantis has done is pour money into the issue.

A red tide task force was assembled, which had been quiet over the last 15 years, but now it means quarterly to work on the issue. There's about $5 million per year towards research and mitigation.

Beyond that, there are several stakeholders tackling the issue head-on, from FWC to Mote Marine to the University of South Florida. During the discussion, they said they appreciated the open communication between experts and the state to help fight red tide and better understand the blooms. One of those tools is the FWC red tide map, which allows anyone to see where it can be found. 

"You have people thinking because you had something off Sanibel that somehow you couldn't go to St. Augustine," DeSantis said. "Really, people's jobs depend on communicating properly. We're really happy with how people are doing. We're proud of that but we also want to make sure communication is good and people have access to accurate data and can be able to govern themselves accordingly."

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The Tampa Bay area is seeing red tide and fish kills along the coast. Blooms have been reported along Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota, and Hillsborough counties. Red tide blooms are expected each year, but some anglers say it is arriving earlier than usual. It's still unclear if the blooms have been intensified due to the Piney Point leak back in April.

During a discussion of panelists, one expert said it's unlikely that the wastewater dump specifically caused red tide in those areas, but he said some of the nutrients could certainly have added to it.

Another panelist described new mitigation efforts that are currently in testing, including UV light, nano-robots, and a method to mitigate red tide blooms using a form of clay. 

"We’re going to grow a whole new science-based industry that is going to be able to use this advanced tech," said Mote Marine CEO Dr. Michael Crosby. 

The roundtable comes one day after the Florida Cabinet and DeSantis rejected a ruling that a proposed road by Miami-Dade County is incompatible with efforts to protect the Everglades.

"This has not been approved to be consistent at all with anything that we're doing with Everglades restoration. I mean, it's not like this is going to happen," DeSantis said. "I mean, they’ve got to go through all those environmental reviews. And so, I think it's premature to say it's going to do some of the things, because I think if some of the things that are happening that are positive do happen, I don't think it's going to get permitted by South Florida Water Management District."

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The proposed project would extend Kendall Parkway to the Dolphin Expressway. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried voted against the Cabinet decision, saying it "will harm Everglades restoration and risk wildlife, agricultural lands, and Miami-Dade’s water supply, while not adequately reducing urban sprawl."

Despite some medium to high levels of red tide being detected in Bay Area waterways, the governor said he’s expecting a busy July 4th weekend. 

"In terms of what we're seeing, this is not 2018," he said. "This is a great place to be."

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report