Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman July 29, 2019

Florida red tide initiative is step toward DeSantis promise

A new initiative puts Gov. Ron DeSantis on the path toward his campaign promise to fight red tides in southwest Florida.

The Legislature approved a 2019-20 budget that includes more than $600 million in water projects. Some of that money is specifically meant to research or combat algae blooms.

In June, DeSantis signed SB 1552 to create the Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative, a partnership between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and Mote Marine Laboratory

The Legislature directed $3 million annually for the program for six years. The bill requires officials to submit an annual report to the governor starting in January 2021.

Separately, the Legislature provided $25 million to research and fight blue-green algae and red tide.

Researchers have a lot of work ahead of them.

While red tide is naturally originating and has existed for centuries, some scientists say that discharge from farms and fertilizer have worsened outbreaks of the harmful algae. Red tide blooms in the Gulf of Mexico are caused by the microscopic organism Karenia brevis, which is not well understood by scientists. 

"What causes Karenia brevis to sometimes become extremely abundant to the point that it causes fish kills, etc.?" University of Miami marine biologist Larry Brand said. "There are many hypotheses about this, and there is no agreement among scientists on this. Indicative of this is the fact that we still cannot predict when and where dense blooms are going to develop."  

In 2018, Florida faced its worst red tide in more than a decade. The algae produce toxins that kill fish and may make the air difficult to breathe and turn the water red. It is separate from the outbreak of the blue-green algae.

The algae outbreaks have hurt waterside businesses and a tourism industry that relies on drawing people to the beach.

Some environmentalists and scientists have raised questions about whether the state-led initiative will do enough to address prevention.

Brand analyzed data from 1954 to 2002 and concluded that red tide has increased around 15-fold, which he said not be a natural occurrence.

Pollutants created from human activity "do make red tide worse than it would naturally be and more effort should be put into keeping nutrients from getting into our public water bodies to begin with," Brand said. 

As the bill moved through the Legislature, the Sierra Club also pushed for more of a focus on prevention. 

"The absence of resources directed at prevention strategies will keep Florida on the track of continuing to wait until toxic algae outbreaks hit and hurt Florida's residents before any action is taken," the Sierra Club testified during the legislative session.

We will have to wait years to see the outcome of the initiative and whether it leads to progress in fighting red tide. 

But the multimillion dollar initiative is a first step toward the campaign promise by DeSantis.

We rate this promise In the Works.

Latest Fact-checks