TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida's governor signed a bill Thursday directing the state to work with a private marine institute to study and combat the red tide blooms that have hurt the state's vital tourism industry and killed such wildlife as manatees, fish and dolphins.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, the non-profit research organization that will work with the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in a public-private partnership to research how to better detect and alleviate red tide blooms.
While red tide is naturally occurring and has sporadically appeared off the state's coast for ages, many believe that humans have made the problem worse. The state recently had one of its worst red tide blooms in recorded history. The 15-month bloom began in the Gulf of Mexico and spread to the waters off the Atlantic coast. In addition to killing massive amounts of sea creatures, it caused respiratory problems in people and hurt coastal tourism.
"No community felt it as hard as folks down our southwest Florida coast. The bloom had devastating effects on wildlife," DeSantis said. "It had health impacts. Key industries like tourism, aquaculture, fishing and coastal businesses suffered."
The most recent outbreak affected waters from the Panhandle through the southwest coast and around the peninsula spreading up the Atlantic to Palm Beach. Scores of Florida's famous beaches were closed and miles of dead fish washed ashore. In the Panhandle, county jail work crews were deployed to pick dead fish off the beaches. People walking the beach were horrified to find dead sea turtles. A 26-foot (8-meter) whale shark washed ashore on Sanibel Island — the first time that species was known to be killed by red tide.
It was the first time in decades that red tide affected three major areas of the state's coast at the same time, and DeSantis said that it hurt tourism even in areas that weren't affected by the blooms.
"If somebody in Wisconsin sees images of Florida beach like that, they may not know that it's just one part of Florida. If you're in Northwest Florida, they may not want to go there either," he said. "We're really all in this together."
The new law will provide $18 million over the next six years to research red tide. Mote Marine Laboratory President Michael Crosby said the money will help early detection of the toxic algae, develop systems where the public and commercial fisherman can report red tide, create new ways to inform the public about outbreaks and the development of new technology to mitigate outbreaks.
“It will utilize applied science and innovation, not only to fight red tide, but also in stimulating Florida’s economy through technology transfer that helps to transform an ecology challenge into an economic opportunity,” Crosby said.