Environmental chief to address red tide outbreak in Tampa Bay

DEP Interim Secretary Shawn Hamilton will be in the area Tuesday to talk about the red tide...
DEP Interim Secretary Shawn Hamilton will be in the area Tuesday to talk about the red tide problem in Tampa Bay.(The Florida Channel)
Published: Jul. 19, 2021 at 2:46 PM EDT
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SARASOTA, Fla. (News Service of Florida) - Department of Environmental Protection Interim Secretary Shawn Hamilton plans to be in the Tampa Bay region Tuesday to address a red-tide outbreak that is being tied to massive sea life deaths.

Hamilton, appearing Monday at a ceremonial bill signing at the Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve in Poinciana, said he wants to give assurances that the state is coordinating with people working locally on the outbreak. “I think it’s important to make sure they know that they have a connection to the highest level of the department, to make sure there are no unanswered questions,” Hamilton said. “We’ve been involved since day one securing funding avenues. And we’ll continue to do that.”

Some local officials, businesses and environmental groups have called for the declaration of the state of emergency because of the outbreak. “Red tide’s carnage is horrific and infuriating,” Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a prepared statement Monday. “Tampa Bay desperately needs help cleaning up this mess, and Florida needs to get its act together and start holding polluters accountable or this will continue to be a significant threat to our way of life.”

Questions also have been raised about whether the Tampa Bay outbreak could be fueled, in part, by contaminated water released from the site of the former Piney Point phosphate plant in Manatee County. The Legislature this spring set aside $100 million in federal stimulus money to address the Piney Point site after fears about a potentially catastrophic breach of a reservoir led to the massive water releases.

Red tide is a naturally occurring growth of microscopic algae that feeds upon nutrients, which could be coming from runoff from area septic tanks, stormwater systems and agricultural and residential fertilizer.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Center for Red Tide Research received $4.8 million in the current state budget. “We actually created a separate fund to be able to respond in real time to things like blue-green algae and red tide,” DeSantis said.

“We have that pot of money. We’re using it, and we’re helping both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties as it needs. And we’re going to continue to do that. Obviously, red tide is naturally occurring. But if you have fish or some of that, and you clean it up quicker, I think a lot of the scientists believe that that prevents the red tide from getting worse or at least mitigate.”

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