OUR POSITION: Credibility depends on eventual response.
Gov. Ron DeSantis made a big splash last week when he traveled to Manasota Key in Englewood to announce the newly reconstituted red tide task force.
The tour came a year after a historic red tide ravaged the Gulf Coast and rose to the top of the news in Southwest Florida. The persistent algal outbreak bloomed into a major political problem for then-Gov. Rick Scott, whose environmental policies over a two-term tenure were inadequate, if not atrocious. During one campaign tour of Sarasota and Charlotte counties, protesters tagged Scott with the label “Red Tide Rick,” which lingered through to the November election.
Scott managed a narrow victory in his race for a U.S. Senate seat, nevertheless. Meanwhile, the man who would replace him, DeSantis, set a different course on both red tide and the blue-green algae problem that plagued Lake Okeechobee and communities along the rivers that drained to the east and west coasts.
During the campaign, candidate DeSantis made a high-profile visit to Manasota Key’s Sandbar Tiki & Grille, where he appeared with fishermen and business owners devastated by the 13-month-long algae bloom. He returned to the restaurant Friday to make the public statement that state government was, finally, taking definitive steps to address the problem.
That was welcome. DeSantis deserves applause for leadership on a critical issue.
Since taking office, the governor and Legislature have taken solid steps. A blue-green algae task force has been operating for months. The 10-member red tide task force — a “reboot” of a dormant state body — is gearing up, thanks to an injection of nearly $5 million allocated by the Legislature. More money has been set aside for scientific research by Mote Marine Laboratory of Sarasota and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Research Institute. Its aim is to develop technologies and tactics to control and mitigate blooms.
These are solid actions — actions that should have been taken well before DeSantis moved to Tallahassee. But no real quibble. The movement for environmental protection — and the economic and social benefits that come with it — is in motion.
Of course, this is what politicians often do when faced with a crisis: Establish a blue-ribbon panel. Key to the eventual success is solid, credible science and hard decisions at the capital.
We do need to learn more about the scientific causes of red tide, a noxious algae bloom that occurs naturally but which may be affected, perhaps greatly, by manmade pollution. The history of scientific study tells us we can find out how changes in our activities can prevent more and longer-lasting blooms in the future. We need to know how landscape fertilizer exacerbates these algae blooms, and how discharges of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee feed the toxins along our coastline.
We can speculate. But real solutions depend on good science, not speculation. We first need to get the science right and second to take proper steps to try to prevent it, to lessen it or mitigate the effects when it occurs.
That’s the promise implicit in the red tide task force. It’s not a reality show created for TV news. The promise is that there will be follow-through and concrete decisions — however difficult or costly — that will enhance our natural environment, our economy based on a healthy environment and our social well-being.
Actions by decision-makers ultimately will determine whether this effort is worthwhile and not simply a show designed to mollify the public until the outrage subsides.