When Hurricane Michael churned through the Gulf of Mexico, there was some hope that its power might help stop the algae bloom, which has caused a red tide of dead sea life, along Florida’s Gulf Coast.
“If we use Hurricane Katrina as a replication of what happened on the Panhandle yesterday, there are good reasons to think that the strong winds disrupted the the red tide,” said Serge Thomas, an associate professor in the Department of Marine and Ecological Sciences at Florida Gulf Coast University.
That was the case with Katrina in 2005, which swept through the Gulf of Mexico, disrupting the algae.
Unfortunately, the current algae bloom and red tide afflicting Florida’s coastline has proven tougher than even a Category 4 hurricane.
Pinellas’ beaches had gotten some respite recently because the bloom had been shoved offshore by easterly winds. That kept the dead fish and poisonous air away from the beaches, giving them some semblance of normalcy.
Sometimes a hurricane can dissipate a bloom with its turbulent wind and water, and sometimes it can bring heavy rainfall that makes a bloom worse by feeding it with polluted runoff. In this case, all Michael did was push it around.
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%! 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 a good idea 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 a good idea 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.