Reel Time: A new direction for Florida’s marine environment

At a press conference Jan. 10 at Mote Marine Laboratory, Florida’s new Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, announced some sweeping changes to the way his administration will handle Florida’s mounting water crisis.

The actions announced in the first two days of his term have been heralded by anglers, environmentalists and many Democrats. In an executive order signed that same day, DeSantis indicated he would be expanding efforts by increasing environmental funding, relying on sound science and pushing for quick action on Everglades area restoration.

In another action, he requested the resignation of the entire South Florida Water Management District board.

The specifics of the order call for $2.5 billion over the next four years for Everglades restoration and water resource protection, a $1 billion increase over what was spent the prior four years. Other key features include the creation of the Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency and the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection, both within the Department of Environmental Protection.

I think it’s important to applaud the governor for these long overdue actions while keeping a close eye on what follows with the Republican-controlled Legislature that has been closely aligned with agricultural interests that have been blamed for much of the runoff that may be fueling both the red tide and blue-green algae.

reel time DeSantis
Gov. Ron DeSantis announces his resolve to follow through with his campaign promise to address Florida’s water crisis. He is flanked by, from left, Mote’s Dr. Michael Crosby and Hell’s Bay Boat Company owner Chris Peterson. – Rusty Chinnis | Sun

My main concern is the apparent change of course for a politician who, as a senator, consistently voted against sound environmental policy. True, DeSantis made the environment of Florida and the much-publicized red tide and blue-green algae threat the centerpiece of his campaign and is apparently following through with that promise. Looking for a valid explanation one doesn’t have to go too far. While all red tides are bad for businesses on Florida’s west coast (and occasionally the east coast), this episode finally got the attention it deserves as influential businesses, including developers, real estate agents and the $82 billion-dollar tourist industry felt the impact. While these actions are long overdue and the right thing to do, it’s also a wise political move.

I’ve fished local waters since the early 80s and have seen firsthand the slow but steady decline of many of our fisheries. True, there have been some bright spots as local governments have worked to control storm and sewage releases, and groups like the Coastal Conservation Association have lobbied for change.

But a look at Florida’s history really brings home the extent of what we’re losing and what has been lost. This past year, books I’ve read have helped me see the place where I’ve lived for four decades with new eyes. Jack Davis’ “Gulf, The Making of An American Sea,” Michael Grundwald’s “The Swamp, The Everglades, Florida, and The Politics of Paradise” and “A Land Remembered” by Patrick D. Smith, showed me a once-resplendent Florida that few can imagine.

It’s an age-old problem as people have come to Florida over the decades and are enchanted by its natural beauty. Compared to other more compromised areas of the country some see no problem in sacrificing a few mangroves and natural habitat in the name of progress. When we have lived here for a while, we begin to see the effects of this gradual compromise as new residents arrive not having that same experience.

It’s unfortunate that the environment had to get to the condition it’s in to effect change, but maybe this time will be different. All Floridians should applaud the governor and support him in efforts to protect our water, air and natural assets. We should also be vigilant and hold our politicians to the task of protecting our most valuable assets. Stay tuned!

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