We’re experiencing the worst toxic algae bloom to date this summer in Florida, and there’s still no end in sight. A toxic algae bloom is basically a horde of harmful organisms that emit dangerous toxins in the surrounding water. They’re a mass of really, really dangerous toxins and you don't want to be anywhere near them.
The Blooms Are Ruining Our Beaches and Coastline
This is particularly distressing in Florida where beaches are the stars of the show. As a St. Petersburg resident, trips to my favorite local beach - Sunset Beach on Treasure Island - are a weekend ritual for my fiancé and I. But this year’s blooms have been so drastic (reports dominate the news cycle of the toxic pollution killing thousands of marine organisms and sending people to the emergency room) have kept us away. My brother and sister-in-law even had a trip planned to visit us this month but we cancelled it because who wants to visit the beach when you can’t actually go to the beach?
This is one of the most concerning points. My family members aren’t the only tourists who are avoiding Florida because of the toxic water pollution. Florida businesses have already lost millions in revenue and have laid off hundreds of workers because of the falling tourism numbers.
Red, Green, and Blue
The unnaturally blue and green blobs cropping up along Florida’s coasts? The red tide freaking everyone out on the Gulf coast? That’s the toxic algae blooms that we’re talking about.
High levels of nutrients in freshwater- mainly phosphorus and nitrogen- create the blue-green color and red colors. Nutrients end up in our water from several sources including stormwater, wastewater-- and agriculture. Agriculture is one of the largest sources of nutrient pollution in the country via things like use of animal manure and the over-fertilization of crops and fields.
Why Is This Happening
For years, Florida has weakened regulations to benefit Big Agribusiness in the name of jobs, jobs, jobs. This has led to a huge increase in the amount of pollutants in the water -- including nutrients which fuel the blooms. Governor Rick Scott led the way in cutting these regulations, and therefore, he bears responsibility. Over the last 8 years of Gov Scott’s anti-environmental policies have included:
- In November of 2010, Governor Scott stopped the EPA from regulating the amount of nutrients levels allowed in freshwater. The nutrient levels the EPA attempted to limit are the very same nutrients that are driving the toxic algae blooms.
- Scott cut hundreds of millions from the state Department of Environmental Protection’s budget and another $700 million from water management district budgets. This eliminated hundreds of jobs, meaning less regulatory oversight and less water quality monitoring.
- He caved to Big Sugar and stopped the plan to purchase over 180,000 acres of sugar farmland for the creation of a reservoir to send the water south and restore the flow of water to the Everglades. Instead of pushing through the plan to purchase sugar farmland, Scott signed into law SB10 in 2017 which will create a much smaller reservoir on state owned land to send the polluted water, instead of discharging it east and west. This proposal is deeply flawed and will create an environmental justice disaster.
A Problematic Solution
Returning the natural flow of water to the Everglades is critical, but we cannot send highly polluted water to the already imperiled Everglades. The Miccosukee Tribe has spoken out about how this plan would gravely impact their ability to subsist via hunting and fishing. They rely on generating revenue through tourism activities like airboat tours which would be destroyed if we send polluted water south and it further degrades their water quality. The polluted water must be cleaned before sending it south.
What You Can Do
We must call on our elected leaders to proactively stop the pollution that is fueling toxic algae blooms.
We cannot allow Big Ag, including Florida’s factory farms and Big Sugar, to dump their waste in our waterways. As concerned citizens and voters, we have the power to hold our elected officials accountable in the upcoming election in November.
Reach out to the candidates running to be governor and your next state and representative and ask if they support real solutions that will address the root of this problem. Call on them to refuse campaign funding from Big Sugar and other Big Agribusinesses. Together, we can get the toxic algae out of Florida’s water AND stop the toxic corporate campaign funding that has allowed this problem to go on for far too long.