PUNTA GORDA, Fla.–Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on May 4 his commitment to nearly $14 million in the state’s budget to combat red tide and fuel research efforts.
The “record-level” funds in the Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget are to be distributed between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Mote Marine Laboratory, in addition to providing grants through the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for red tide cleanup.
“If you look at the four years before I became governor, those four years, there was a total of 2.5 million dollars that was allocated to address the research and mitigation of red tide,” the Republican governor said at a news conference in Clearwater. “Once I make this announcement today, for my four years, we went from $2.5 million to $40 million.”
“Protecting Florida Together” has been the governor’s mantra on the state’s environmental initiatives, and he said he is “putting his money where his mouth is” after his executive order 19-12 was put into place 48 hours after he was sworn into governor in 2019 called “Achieving More Now For Florida’s Environment.”
At the time he signed the order, he said, “The protection of water resources is one of the most pressing issues facing our state. That’s why today I’m taking immediate action to combat the threats which have devastated our local economies and threatened the health of our communities.”
Brevis, or Red Tide, as it is commonly known, has plagued the southern portion of the gulf coast of Florida for many years. Red Tide is an algae bloom that occurs annually and can cause damage to wildlife, cause respiratory problems in humans and affect the economy of Florida. It is prevalent during August and into September.
Red Tide is not new to the area. It has been around since the 1400s, when the Spaniards arrived on the Gulf shores of Florida. It is described by many scientists as “naturally existing.” Red Tide feeds off a variety of nutrients. When there are higher levels of nutrients, the organisms can explode into a bloom that can be spread by currents and wind patterns.
DeSantis said that he has not approved and signed the 2023 budget because he is “still going through it” and indicated he would use the power of line-item veto.
“I’ve got line-item veto authority,” DeSantis said. “We’ve gotta make sure we get it right.”
DeSantis touted that he had done “more than any governor” to help put resources to work for research and mitigation efforts against red tide.
While the red tide has been around for hundreds of years, the governor said he understands that now and in the future, that red tide must be dealt with.
“We understand that, yes, these red tide blooms have been recorded for hundreds of years. But we also believe that we need to do whatever we can to mitigate the effects,” DeSantis said at the press event. “We want to put resources to bear both for research and mitigation.”
Experts in the field agree that while red tide is a natural phenomenon that is not going to go away, new technologies and scientific advances can help control the damage it causes to marine life and humans, said Dr. Michael Crosby, President and CEO of Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium.
“This initiative is bringing together the best and brightest minds in science to utilize innovative approaches and technologies to determine the most effective and ecologically compatible methods for mitigating the adverse effect of red tide,” he said of the new red tide mitigation technology development initiative.
Crosby said he is getting requests and inquiries from all of the nation and the world on how Florida is researching red tide.
“The Florida model for embracing science and technology to develop innovative tools to help protect our environment is a model for the rest of the nation can follow—and they should follow,” he told the audience.
DeSantis said the funding would be allocated between multiple parts of state agencies: $4.8 million is included for The Center for Red Tide Research at Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI), which he created in 2019 to improve red tide monitoring. Another $3 million is for the Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative, a partnership between FWC and Mote Marine Laboratory to identify technology that would decrease the environmental and economic impacts of red tide. And a recurring $3 million a year for research is to be allocated for the next six years.
This program is already underway, he said.
DeSantis has also allocated $20 million to aid in the clean-up of the algal blooms that would support county government with their clean-up efforts, with a minimum of $5 million going into an emergency grant program that is operated by the State of Florida.
The governor explained that during a red tide event, it will result in “fish kills.”
“What happens is, you have a bloom, you end up seeing these fish, and if you don’t go up and clean it out, it exacerbates all of the problems,” he said.
DeSantis said funding given to red tide mitigation during his time in office was a “big commitment” to the issue. He also lauded Florida’s status as a popular fishing destination.
“I mean, we’re the number one fishing destination in the country, so we’ve gotta make sure we’re continuing to do all that we can,” he said.
DeSantis underscored the importance of “dealing with red tide” and said he wanted to “be ahead of things” as much as they can, especially during tourism months and making sure the beaches were pristine.
“We’re fortunate to have some really great places,” DeSantis said about Florida beaches. “We’re fortunate to be Floridians, but you have a lot of people who work hard, they save, to be able to come to Florida. To have fun and to bring their families. We welcome that, and we’re really happy that we have such beautiful beaches here, and particularly in this stretch, some of the best beaches are right here in our own backyard.”