Governor declares state of emergency due to red tide

Red Tide Sunset
Anna Maria Island's recent sunsets were tempered by red tide fish kills. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

TALLAHASSEE – Gov. Rick Scott has issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency due to impacts of red tide in Manatee County and six other counties.

Sarasota, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Charlotte, Collier and Lee counties also are included in Tuesday’s Executive Order 18-221.

“As Southwest Florida and the Tampa Bay area continues to feel the devastating impacts of red tide, we will continue taking an aggressive approach by using all available resources to help our local communities,” Scott said.

“I am issuing an emergency declaration to provide significant funding and resources to the communities experiencing red tide so we can combat its terrible impacts. This includes making additional FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) biologists and scientists available to assist in cleanup and animal rescue efforts, more than $100,000 for Mote Marine Laboratory and $500,000 for Visit Florida to establish an emergency grant program to help local communities continue to bring in the visitors that support so many Florida families and businesses.”

The executive order provides state funding to local governments and research agencies and allows for the rapid movement of resources to local communities in response to red tide impacts in Southwest Florida and the Tampa Bay area.

This includes more than $100,000 in additional funding to Mote, which will help the Sarasota-based organization to deploy additional scientists to assist local efforts to save animals affected by the naturally-occurring red tide, including manatees, dolphins and sea turtles.

Since 2011, Florida has invested more than $17.3 million through the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) in red tide research, including more than $5.5 million for a partnership with Mote to study the causes of red tide.

Scott’s order also directs an additional $900,000 in grants for Lee County for cleanup impacts related to red tide. Lee County will use this additional funding to enhance the county’s efforts to clean local waterways from impacts caused by red tide. This brings red tide grant funding for Lee County to more than $1.3 million.

Marketing and communications

Visit Florida has been directed to begin developing a marketing campaign to assist Southwest Florida communities that will start after this year’s red tide blooms end. Visit Florida also will create a $500,000 emergency grant program to assist local tourism development boards in counties affected by red tide. The Department of Economic Opportunity will provide business assistance, including interest free loans and an enhanced presence in Southwest Florida.

Sarasota County’s environmental staff and County Health Department (CHD) leadership has been in contact with city and county government and Visit Sarasota to coordinate messaging and provide template signage, website links and creative materials. The CHD also has worked with the county to post signs at every beach and provide rack cards to the county and Mote for distribution.

FWC remains available to local agencies and partners in affected areas, including area business and tourism groups in Southwest Florida. Any local agency or group that has any questions or concerns can contact Kelly Richmond from the FWC at 727-502-4784.

Fish removal

FWC has mobilized all available resources to mitigate red tide, and Executive Director Eric Sutton has waived rules through an executive order to expedite the removal of dead fish – regardless of applicable bag, size or possession limits or of season or area closures – from shoreline, inshore or nearshore areas in all seven counties included in the governor’s order.

FWC is operating the toll-free fish kill hotline. To report fish kills, call 800-636-0511 or submit a report online. These reports help FWC researchers track and better understand the impact of red tide in Florida.

Water monitoring

FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and Mote are working together to monitor Karenia brevis – the organism that creates the harmful algal blooms that multiply to higher-than-normal concentrations, known as red tide.

The Department of Environmental Protection also is continuing enhanced water monitoring and testing to give scientists the best possible data.