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State Of Emergency Requested For Red Tide Outbreak

Dead fish litter the downtown St. Petersburg marina
Steve Newborn
WUSF Public Media
Dead fish litter the downtown St. Petersburg marina

St. Petersburg spokesman Ben Kirby said city officials had reached out for state help in dealing with red tide, which has resulted in 15 tons of dead fish hauled ashore by city crews. But they had not received a response by late Tuesday.

That comes on the heels of a letter written by state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried asking the governor to declare a state of emergency. Fried, a Democrat running for governor, asked Ron Desantis to issue an executive order that would help Tampa Bay counties affected by red tide.

Nikki Fried/Twitter

She wrote: "Severe red tide needs a coordinated state response and resources, instead of shifting the burden to local governments.

Nikki Fried/Twitter

“With Florida’s waters so interconnected, it should not fall solely to municipal officials with limited budgets and personnel to address this regional situation — state agencies including the Florida Department of Environmental Protection should coordinate the response,” Fried wrote.

Fried referenced a similar order given in 2018 by then-governor Rick Scott, to give assistance to seven counties affected by red tide.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection

No response has been given by DeSantis. A statement from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said interim Secretary Shawn Hamilton toured Tampa Bay Tuesday along with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director Eric Sutton.

They promised more help for the Center for Red Tide Research, run by the FWC in St. Petersburg. They said the governor signed a bill that provides $3 million a year to the initiative for six years, totaling $18 million.

“Having spent much of my life in Southwest Florida, I know that red tide blooms can cause significant impacts to our local communities,” Sutton said in a prepared statement.

“Today, DEP Interim Secretary Shawn Hamilton and I were able to view firsthand the impacts of the current bloom in the Tampa Bay area. We also spent time with stakeholders and local leadership to ensure we are providing information, scientific data, and the latest efforts of all partners regarding red tide research and management. Since his first day in office, Governor Ron DeSantis has been a staunch advocate of improving our state’s water quality, dedicating significantly more funding and resources for red tide research and management. This support is critical as we join together for a long-term approach to complicated ecological issues.”

Red tide is also affecting Sarasota County. The state Department of Health has posted warning signs at the following area beaches: Longboat Key, Bird Key Park/Ringling Causeway, North Lido, Lido Casino, South Lido, Siesta Key, Turtle Beach, Nokomis Beach, North Jetty, Venice Beach, Service Club, Venice Fishing Pier, Brohard Park, Caspersen, Manasota Key, and Blind Pass.

The department makes the following recommendations:

  • Do not swim around dead fish.
  • If you have chronic respiratory problems, consider staying away from the beach as red tide can affect your breathing.
  • Do not harvest or eat molluscan shellfish and distressed or dead fish. If fish are healthy, rinse fillets with tap or bottled water and throw out the guts.
  • Keep pets and livestock away from water, sea foam, and dead sea life.
  • Residents living in beach areas who experience respiratory symptoms are advised to close windows and run the air conditioner (making sure that the A/C filter is maintained according to manufacturer's specifications).
  • Florida Poison Control Centers have a toll-free 24/7 Hotline for reporting of illnesses, including health effects from exposure to red tide at 1-888-232-8635.

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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.