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State Vows Red Tide Help For Tampa Bay As Groups Seek State Of Emergency

 Fish killed by red tide float in the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina basin last week
Steve Newborn
WUSF Public Media
Fish killed by red tide float in the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina basin last week

More than two dozen businesses and conservation groups Monday asked Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency to help fight the outbreak of red tide in Tampa Bay.

The hundreds of tons of dead marine life discovered in recent weeks has included manatees and goliath groupers — which can weigh hundreds of pounds -- as well as pufferfish, eel, horseshoe crabs, sheepshead, mullet, snook, red drum, tarpon, sharks, grouper and catfish.

“Red tide’s carnage is horrific and infuriating,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy group.

“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.”

Added Glenn Compton, chairman of the advocacy group ManaSota-88: “The current red tide outbreak clearly demonstrates Florida is not doing enough to hold polluters accountable for their actions. It is time Florida’s weak water-quality standards be strengthened in order to prevent future red tide blooms.”

Their letter follows a request from St. Petersburg's mayor and city council last week to help fund cleanup of what is being called the worst red tide outbreak ever in Tampa Bay.

Center for Biological Diversity

At an outdoor press conference in Osceola County, DeSantis didn't directly respond to the requests. He said he re-started the state's dormant red tide task force and money is there to fight blue-green algae and red tide.

"We've been engaged in this from the beginning. We did a roundtable in June, we brought the scientists together, where they were explaining what we were looking at, and what the state is able to do in response," he said. "So we put millions of dollars to work down there to assist with mitigation, and we'll continue to do that."

Eric Sutton of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was touring Tampa Bay on Monday. Shawn Hamilton, head of the Department of Environmental Protection said during a a news conference he'll be there Tuesday.

"We've been involved since day one securing funding avenues, and we'll continue to do that," Hamilton said. "I'll head down there this week, and you should expect a heavy presence to make sure the coordination continues and make sure they understand that we're there for them today and tomorrow."

Pinellas County and St. Petersburg have already removed hundreds of tons of dead fish and marine life from their shores.

“Tampa Bay hasn’t been this sick since the 1970s when Clean Water Act regulations brought about the bay’s recovery,” said Justin Bloom, Suncoast Waterkeeper board member. “It is with a groundswell of public support that we call on our governor for leadership to protect and restore our bays and waterways.”

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Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.