On Monday, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., hosted a roundtable with key stakeholders on water quality in Southwest Florida.
The Gulf Coast is currently experiencing severe levels of red tide. Red tide is caused by toxin-producing algae that is extremely deadly to fish and other marine life and adversely affects tourism in the Suncoast region.
“On the Suncoast, we rely on clean water and white sandy beaches to support our economy and our way of life,” said Buchanan. “Red tide has wreaked havoc on marine life, our waters and the many businesses that rely on Florida’s tourism-based economy. Today’s roundtable was a productive discussion on enhancing Southwest Florida’s natural resources to protect our economy and environment for generations to come. We must take immediate action to combat red tide.”
In 2018, Florida suffered one of the worst bouts of red tide in the state’s history. The bloom, which finally dissipated in February 2019, had plagued the coast for more than 15 months. Thousands of tons of dead marine life washed ashore local beaches, causing significant hardship on local residents, small businesses and county governments. Southwest Florida is uniquely vulnerable to red tide, as it has seen this type of algae bloom occur more than twice as often as any other area in the state.
Those in attendance included:
Adam Blalock, Deputy Secretary for Ecosystems Restoration, Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Dr. Thomas Frazer, Dean of the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida
Ed Sherwood, Executive Director, Tampa Bay Estuary Program
Dr. Dave Tomasko, Executive Director, Sarasota Bay Estuary Program
Dr. Michael Mullan, Executive Director, Roskamp Institute
Jeff Sedacca, Advisor, Gulf Shellfish Institute
Elliot Falcione, Executive Director, Visit Manatee
Erin Duggan, Vice President, Visit Sarasota
“Our fresh and saltwater ecosystems are the lifeblood of Florida – critical to the health and happiness of all Floridians and the state’s economic well-being,” said Frazer. “In fact, the legacy of our leadership will rest squarely on an ability to ensure that water resources in this state are restored and safeguarded in a scientifically sound manner. I applaud the efforts of Congressman Buchanan to address the water quality issues affecting the southwest coast of Florida.”
“Over the past 30 years, TBEP and our partners from the public and private sectors have worked together to reduce nutrient pollution, enhance coastal habitats for the benefit of fish and wildlife, and communicate the value of a healthy Tampa Bay to our community’s quality of life,” said Sherwood“Harmful algal blooms, continued urban development, climate change, and large nutrient discharges all threaten Tampa Bay’s recovery. We must focus our efforts on those actions and investments that can deliver the greatest positive impact for the estuary.”
“Sarasota Bay is currently facing a series of challenges, but it’s also a waterbody where water quality and ecosystem restoration has been previously accomplished, which gives us confidence that the improvements we need to bring about can be accomplished,” said Tomasko. “It won’t be easy, but it is possible, if we all do our part, from individual homeowners to business owners to local, regional, state and federal agencies.”
“Previous studies have shown an excess in admissions to emergency rooms for neurological complaints during Red Tide blooms in South West Florida,” said Mullan. “The Roskamp Institute’s Red Tide Program, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is examining the possible effects of exposure to the Red Tide toxin on the human nervous system including brain health.”
“As a beach destination that relies on tourism as its main economic driver, clean water is one of the most important issues for our community,” said Falcione. “Year after year, the Bradenton area attracts visitors seeking clean beaches, beautiful waterways, thriving wildlife, fresh seafood and opportunities to take part in recreational activities that can only be enjoyed when our water quality is high. As Manatee County continues to grow into a top destination for visitors to Florida, the BACVB is dedicated to working with county, state and national agencies and organizations to continue to find ways to maintain water quality levels, educate visitors and ensure water remains ingrained in our destination’s unique and treasured culture for years to come. Together with Florida’s leadership and some of the world’s best marine biologists, I know we will come up with organic mitigation programs that will minimize Red Tide in the near future”
Sarasota Bay is one of only 28 ecosystems in the entire country that have been formally designated by Congress as an “estuary of national significance.” It is home to more than 1,400 native species of diverse plants and iconic wildlife, such as the manatee, the bald eagle, the sea turtle and the bottlenose dolphin. It also contributes nearly $1.8 billion to Florida’s economy, according to the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.
Buchanan previously secured $8 million for red tide research and backed a proposal signed into law by then-President Donald Trump to provide more than $100 million to combat harmful algal blooms.
In 2019, the U.S. House overwhelmingly approved Buchanan’s measure to study the impact of red tide on human health. Buchanan’s amendment instructs the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to designate $6.25 million to research the long-term health effects of red tide and other harmful algal blooms.