Amid the stench of dead fish, several hundred people marched along St. Petersburg’s downtown waterfront Saturday and called on the state to deal with the growing outbreak of red tide.
The protesters shouted “Save our bay, make polluters pay," as they marched from the St. Pete Pier and past city workers scooping fish out of the Vinoy Marina basin.
They asked Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency to provide more resources. The governor’s office says such a declaration isn't necessary and that sufficient state grant money is available to clean up more than 600 tons of dead fish that have washed up in Pinellas County in recent weeks.
Thomas Paterek, chairman of the Suncoast Surfrider group that organized the march, blamed the state’s response to the disaster at the former Piney Point phosphate plant for what’s happening now in Tampa Bay. He and some scientists say the 200-million gallon spill of contaminated water in the spring is to blame for the heightened levels of nitrogen in the water.
“We haven't seen red tide in upper Tampa Bay like this since 1971,” he said. “We almost never see red tide bloom this early in the summer.”
The Surfriders, a grassroots advocacy group for oceans and beaches, listed several demands of state leaders, including fixing crumbling infrastructure and promoting clean energy.
However, demonstrators focused their ire on wanting the state to shut down Piney Point and two dozen gyp stacks in the greater Tampa Bay region. The massive stacks store slightly radioactive byproducts from phosphate mining. Paterek said the state is not holding companies accountable for the long-term cleanup.
“They have no real plan to do this, even though it's long overdue,” he said.
Marchers cheered when Paterek said polluters should be made to pay for the cleanup. Last week, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said the city already has spent “six figures” in taxpayer money to deal with the fish kill so far.
Paterek said the current situation is a major step back from efforts made to revive the the water quality of Tampa Bay back in the 1970s and 80s.
“Tampa Bay was on the brink of total collapse just a few decades ago, there were dead waters, where there should have been thriving seagrass beds, teeming with fish and crabs and then our community came together and demanded that our bay be saved,” he said.
“Our community dedicated the time, funding and policies required to bring Tampa Bay back. But here we are again.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.