Red Tide Cleanup Cost More Than $14m in Florida Last Year

Todays News


Florida officials dropped $17.3 million in emergency spending to clean up and research harmful algal blooms last year. And with red tide still occasionally showing up in Southwest Florida, it’s possible the expense will still go up.

Most of that money, more than $14 million, went to cleaning up dead fish from beaches, according to Gil McRae, director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. The funding became available through executive orders signed by Gov. Rick Scott last year at the peak of algal blooms in July and August.

In areas where the economy relies on coastal tourism, like Sarasota and Manatee counties, explosive algal blooms impacted business for months. Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, says hotel cancellations and cuts in room rates led to significant declines in tourist tax revenues. 

“It’s hard to exactly quantify the impact but we know red tide plays a role,” she says.

McRae testified to Florida House members Wednesday that the red tide blooms suffered in Florida in 2018 were the longest and most severe ever recorded. The event seemed similar to algal blooms dating back to 1946. when Florida’s population was a tenth of what it is today. 

Haley says the region still feels enduring effects. Visit Sarasota County customer satisfaction surveys in December showed a record low 66-percent satisfaction rate among visitors to the region. In December 2017, the same survey found a 91 percent satisfaction rate.

McRae says the state has contributed resources toward studying algal blooms, including studies done in Sarasota area canals in concert with researchers at Mote Marine Laboratory.

But he also warned that algal blooms, a natural occurrence, will never completely go away. 

“Control of excess nutrients into waters will help,” he says, “but won’t rid us of red tide.”

Haley sees signs water quality will be a high priority issue in the coming Legislative session, she says. And Visit Florida in December just started a new program promoting Southwest Florida beaches.

The region still sees red tide reports. This week, the only red tide off Florida’s coast could be found in patches of water off Charlotte County. Haley says whether local beaches see an impact literally changes with the wind.

“But the good news, if it can be called that, is that this is more of a normal red tide, behaving in a way we are more accustomed to,” she says. That's unlike red tides in August that impacted every beach in the region simultaneously.

“If a beach is impacted," Haley says, "I have the ability to direct people to a different beach.” 

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