Florida lawmakers are set to vote on research funding for toxic algae blooms. However some environmentalists are saying this funding may only solve part of the problem.
It’s clear. Water management is on the top of priorities for Florida lawmakers this session. With Governor DeSantis pledging $2.5 billion in funding for environmental projects in the next four years, bills like SB 1552 have gained momentum. Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota), the bill’s sponsor, wants to give $3 million for six years to the Mote Marine Laboratory in his home town of Sarasota. The marine lab will receive funding in partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to conduct research on how to better handle severe red tide.
“Mote Marine which is located in Sarasota County has already identified along with prominent scientist that the intensification of red tide is a direct result of manmade pollution,” says Gruters.
During an earlier hearing on the bill, the Sierra club’s David Cullen said a better approach to algae blooms and red tide is to focus on preventing them in the first place.
“The sponsor mentioned man-made pollution. We believe that the focus should not be in general on mitigation and being reactive on to problems but on prevention."
And bill supporters like Sen. Lori Berman (D-Palm Beach) asked for more preventative measures.
“I’m going to support the bill, I think it’s a good bill but I do think we probably should add some more prevention language into it because were able to prevent it when we know that were putting more nutrients nearer to the coast. So that’s an area where we could do some prevention work," she said.
However David Shepp, a lobbyist for Mote Marine Laboratory says manmade pollution is not the root cause for algae blooms in general. In the same appropriations committee, Sen. Doug Broxson (R-Pensacola) asked Shepp if the algae blooms we see today are a manmade problem.
“Not a scientist myself but I would tell you that it has been occurring in the State of Florida for hundreds of years long before impacts of man brought it about. Is there exacerbation at the coastline, where there is nutrient run of from the state of Florida? Certainly, but that is not the cause of red tide, red tide is a naturally a curing phenomenon and the science backs that up," Shepp said.
Bob Weisberg Professor of Ocean Physics at the University of South Florida says red tide has occurred naturally in Florida for centuries, and the severity varies annually.
“We believe that it originates offshore, where as it manifests as a toxic nuisance along the beach. So as the public generally equates it as a shorefront phenomenon because that’s where we suffer the consequences of the red tide, but it’s recognized that it actually originates offshore."
As for the manmade impacts on red tide? Weisberg says it is inconclusive.
The University of South Florida recently released findings on to last year’s persistent red tide. Weisberg points towards two factors. The first being remnants of a 2017 bloom and special conditions in the oceans currents ultimately led to the severity of last year’s algae bloom. With naturally occurring phenomena like red tide Shepp says the Mote Laboratory will take prevention into consideration as they research ways to help communities deal with future algae blooms, but he also explains researchers need to focus on ways to better prepare for impacts.