Florida right now is experiencing an environmental disaster. The State’s beautiful beaches are being inundated by toxic algae known as a Red Tide.
Reports over the weekend of beachgoers on Florida’s Atlantic coast complaining of coughing and wheezing means Red Tide toxic algae has reached a rare peak.
The bloom has now touched all three of the state’s coasts, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. This appears to be only the second time that has happened since the state began officially tracking the blooms. The last time was nearly 20 years ago.
The toxic algae has been causing intense discomfort to beachgoers:
On Saturday, beachgoers in Palm Beach County complained of respiratory problems as well as skin and eye irritations, prompting county officials to close several beaches. The symptoms are identical to the ones experienced by residents on the gulf coast who have been dealing with the microscopic marauder all summer long, along with fish kills and the deaths of dolphins, manatees and sea turtles.
As well as massive disease and death to marine life:
Thousands of sea creatures now litter many of southern Florida’s typically picturesque beaches. Most are fish—mullet fish, catfish, pufferfish, snook, trout, grunt, and even the massive goliath grouper. But other creatures are also washing ashore—crabs, eels, manatees, dolphins, turtles, and more. It’s a wildlife massacre of massive proportions. And the cause of both the deaths and toxic, stinging fumes is a bloom of harmful algae that scientists say is the region’s worst in over a decade.
“It’s just like a ghost town,” says Heather Barron, head veterinarian at Florida’s Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW). “Anything that can leave has, and anything that couldn’t leave has died.”
While Red Tides have happened in the past, their frequency and intensity are increasing. Much like with the effect Climate Change has already had on sea level rise in Florida, this year’s historic Red Tides are showing that Florida is again a canary in the coal mine when it comes to environmental problems.
Red Tides, along with other environmental problems that have affected Florida in the recent past, such as coral bleaching, can be attributed to policy making that has been reticent in protecting the fragile ecosystem that exists within a State that is basically a giant underground river, where any chemicals that are allowed into the groundwater make their way eventually through the shallow aquifer of Florida into the Everglades and out to Sea. This lack of environmentally sound policy in Florida has helped turn the Florida Everglades into the most critically endangered site in the United States.
Ever since white people moved to Florida, the Everglades has been under almost relentless assault. After being drained and developed, polluted with fertilizers, and overrun by invasive species, it’s no secret that today the vast wetland is on life support.
A recently released report, however, underscores the severity of the situation. The Everglades’ conservation outlook is “critical,” according to a study out this month from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with climate change, altered water flow, and invasive species taking a major toll on an already-damaged environment.
Of 241 natural wonders assessed around the globe, from the Great Barrier Reef to the Smoky Mountains, only 17 — or 7 percent — were rated critical. The Glades was the only natural gem in the United States to earn that dire designation.
Politically speaking, Florida has been dominated by a Republican party that has had control of the Florida House of Representatives since 1996, has had control of the Florida Senate since 1995, and has had control of the Governorship since 1999.
Since Republicans have held control over Florida politics, environmental protection has been consistently cast aside, as their laissez-faire business philosophy has prioritized profits for businesses above all else.
The report, which came out in 2009, surveyed data from 1991 to 2003. It documented the rise of pollution and the fall of flows. But the geologists didn’t anticipate the most startling finding.
“The most unexpected conclusion,” said Jonathan Arthur, the state’s chief geologist, “was the saline indicators increasing in the springs.”
…If Florida’s freshwater bubble continues to shrink, “we’d have saltwater intrusion under the whole state. That’s a nightmare scenario,” said Knight of the Florida Springs Institute. “The evidence is there that we’re changing our aquifer.”
And this lack of environmental protection has helped lead directly to the Red Tide problem Florida is facing today:
The algae fouling South Florida beaches traces its origin to cattle ranches, farms and neighborhoods as far north as Orlando.
A vast area drains into Lake Okeechobee, where water laden with phosphorus has fertilized the growth of horrific algae blooms that have been discharged to the ocean. The target phosphorus level for the lake is 105 metric tons a year. Last year, the lake received 450.
But environmentalists point to decades of overdevelopment and lax regulation of agriculture, saying the state never forced farms, cities and other sources of phosphorus to reduce it sufficiently to allow the lake to recover.
Now, Florida Republicans are being faced with an environmental disaster that is affecting Florida’s number one industry: tourism. So they are scrambling to pretend that they suddenly care about the environment.
Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee for Florida Governor, is suddenly casting himself as a conservationist:
Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis today cast himself as a conservationist capable of fixing the blue-green algae problem in south Florida, and suggested his opponent made too many enemies to do the same.
“My opponent wants to impeach Donald Trump,” DeSantis says. “Will he be able to go to the White House and work with them on this?”
Vern Buchanan, a Republican Congressman running for re-election, is running ads touting his ability to solve the Red Tide issue plaguing the State:
Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan is out with a new ad touching on the red tide outbreak affecting Southwest Florida.
Titled, “Red Tide,” the 30-second spot touts Buchanan as the ideal candidate to tackle the red tide issue as he attempts to defend his seat in Florida’s 16th Congressional District.
Rick Scott, Florida’s Republican Governor and U.S. Senate candidate, has declared a State of Emergency to cope with the Red Tide crisis:
Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency due to impacts of red tide in Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota, Manatee, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
Should Florida voters trust that these Republican politicians actually prioritize environmental protection? Or are these Republican politicians merely paying lip service to environmental protection because it is an election year? Well, a handy philosophy when it comes to judging any politician is to not just listen to what they say, but look at what they have done. The League of Conservation Voters tracks how politicians vote when it comes to environmental issues, assigning each politician a score between 0% and 100%. So, how have these Florida Republicans done?
First, let’s look at Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee for Florida Governor, who now claims to be a conservationist:
Ron DeSantis League of Conservation Voters lifetime score: 2%
2%! Are you kidding me? How bad do you have to be to get a 2% grade on anything? And this guy now wants to convince Florida voters he is a conservationist?
Okay, let’s check out Republican Congressman Vern Buchanan, who is running ads about how he can help solve the Red Tide crisis:
Vern Buchanan League of Conservation Voters lifetime score: 19%
Well, I suppose 19% is better than 2%, but I’m pretty sure if one was grading, 19% is still an F.
Now, let’s see how what the League of Conservation voters thinks of Republican Governor Rick Scott as he tries to convince voters to send him from the Statehouse to D.C.. Turns out the League of Conservation Voters doesn’t have a grade for Rick Scott. Nope. They instead have named Rick Scott as the #1 member of their “Dirty Dozen” list of the most anti-environment candidates in the country:
LCV Victory Fund today named Florida Senate candidate Rick Scott as the first member of its signature Dirty Dozen list for 2018. LCV Victory Fund’s supporters voted for Scott to be the debut member of the list, which has targeted some of the worst anti-environmental candidates for more than 20 years.
Scott is a climate change denier who has banned the words “climate change” from official Florida government communications. With Florida facing the destructive impacts of climate change head on — rising sea levels and the devastation brought by Hurricane Irma — Scott is continuing to side with Big Oil, trying to trick voters about his stance on offshore drilling as the fossil fuel industry funds his campaign.
“Rick Scott’s pro-polluter record makes him the ideal first candidate for the 2018 Dirty Dozen,” said Pete Maysmith, LCV Victory Fund Senior Vice President for Campaigns. “Scott’s election-year environmentalism isn’t fooling anyone. From censoring climate science to cutting millions from water management and mishandling the current toxic algae crisis, Floridians know that Scott puts Big Oil ahead of their communities every single time.”
For those of you who are Florida voters, it would be of great service to remember the history of these Republicans when it comes to environmental issues. For those of you who are not Florida voters, it would be of great service to look at what a mess these Republicans have left of their State, and try not to let it happen to your State as well.