Red tide costs rise as St. Petersburg mayor Governor DeSantis bickers
ST. PETERSBURG – Mayor Rick Kriseman said the city is straining its resources to recover marine life that has died from the current red tide crisis and called for more help from the state and Governor Ron DeSantis.
“Our city crews can only go on for so long,” he said at a press conference on Wednesday held at waterfront Crisp Park, alongside a crew picking up dead fish with pool skimmers. He recalled how former Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in 2018 to free up resources when the toxic red tide gripped Florida’s west coast.
“We’re asking the governor, please… we need your help,” Kriseman said.
Hours later, he received a reprimand from Tallahassee.
“Mayor Kriseman is either unaware of what’s really going on in his own backyard or is lying on purpose and is using Red Tide to try and score cheap political points,” a statement from the governor’s spokesperson reads. Jared Williams.
The 2018 declaration of emergency was necessary because “a dedicated source of funding did not exist,” Williams said. “It is not now.” The Florida Department of Environmental Protection funds grants to help counties, he said, and the governor does not need to declare an emergency.
Pinellas’ director of public works Kelli Hammer Levy said she had been in contact with the acting environment secretary and his chief of staff for state aid. The governor’s office said the state will provide $ 902,500 to cover county and city cleanup costs and continue to help with future expenses. The state is working on a similar deal with Hillsborough and has pledged Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee counties about $ 75,000 to cover water sampling.
After the governor’s office responded, Kriseman spokesman Ben Kirby accused DeSantis of injecting politics into the environmental crisis. He said the city wanted help securing more shrimp boats to collect dead fish offshore with large nets before the decaying remains land on the coast.
“Mayor Kriseman is not concerned with the mechanism by which our city receives aid, as long as it comes,” Kirby said. A council member and a city lobbyist contacted the governor’s office, with the first request on July 9, according to the mayor and his spokesperson. The mayor’s office said it did not hear back on Wednesday.
The governor’s office disputed some of the statements, saying it had been in contact with two anonymous council members since the weekend and that a lobbyist contacted on Wednesday on behalf of the city. But DeSantis’ office said it had no record of Kriseman himself having reached out.
Meanwhile, the calamity and cleanup continued: At least 676 tonnes of dead marine life were gathered in Pinellas County by noon on Wednesday, Levy said. More than 470 tonnes came from around Saint Petersburg.
Carcasses extracted from the water are burned in a waste-to-energy facility to generate electricity, Levy said. Dead fish covered in sand and dirt from the ground are dumped in a landfill. Pinellas County spent over $ 1 million on its June 11 response earlier this week.
“Our burn rate is around 100,000 per day,” Levy said.
This cleanup is more difficult than the bloom of 2018, when the red tide drifted off the Gulf of Mexico and left dead fish piled up on the beaches. More and more fish are floating in Tampa Bay and the Intracoastal Waterway, moving through narrow canals where they are trapped under the docks and mixed with rock fill. Dead catfish can get entangled in small nets and skimmers, Kriseman said, as workers deploy grabbing tools to reach carcasses trapped under mangroves.
About 200 St. Petersburg employees are helping, according to the city, which has diverted attention from routine tasks such as mowing parks, repairing sidewalks and cleaning gutters.
Eleven boats were scanning the water for dead marine animals across Pinellas, Levy said. Four were shrimp boats: two in St. Petersburg, one near Treasure Island and another around Fort De Soto. She expects the county will have to redouble its efforts to deal with all the rotting fish.
Removing decaying marine life is a priority as it releases nutrients into the water, fueling toxic blooms even more.
“You cannot control the red tide. You can’t control it, ”Levy said. “When will he stop?” We do not know. … It will be a very long summer and a very long fall if it does not end sooner.
Water samples showed high levels of red tide not only on the surface of the bay but also deeper, she said, which means that many plant and animal species are damaged. Seagrasses, a cornerstone of the bay’s ecology that provide food and habitat, are dying as dark water shades the sun and dissolved oxygen levels drop, Levy said.
The bloom has frustrated residents of the riverside neighborhoods. At a meeting held Tuesday by environmental organizations Captains for Clean Water and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, some complained about brown water and putrid air.
Vahan Takoushian, 43, said he bought a million dollar house in Redington Shores and a boat three years ago to leave New York. When a bloom of the red tide then passed, he thought he had seen the worst.
“Maybe I should have gone to Panama or Costa Rica somewhere,” he said. “The water is disgusting. I feel like I’m back on the East River.
As he walked through Vinoy Park on Wednesday, Harvey Moore, 73, watched an excavator pull piles of dead fish from the bay.
“I have lived here my whole life, and it is the worst I have ever seen,” he said. “It’s just a disaster.”
Florida’s top environmental officials visited the area this week to see the toxic bloom up close. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission executive director Eric Sutton said he heard the anguish from local leaders.
“This community has worked hard over the years to get Tampa Bay back on track, so a lot of people will see this as a setback,” Sutton told the Tampa Bay Times. “But I’m optimistic it will only be for the short term.”
As Kriseman wrapped up his press conference on Wednesday, Crisp Park workers gathered around a carcass about a few feet long floating along the sea wall. Puffy and gray, it was a goliath grouper – probably a juvenile. Mature adults of the species can reach 8 feet and weigh up to 800 pounds.
Fish were once the target of anglers. People off Florida have been barred from keeping them since 1990, according to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The workers were watching. They said this was not the first dead goliath they had encountered this summer.
Times editor Arielle Bader contributed to this report.
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Resources of the Red Tide
There are several online resources that can help residents stay informed and share information about Red Tide:
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a website which follows where the red tide is detected and the strength of the concentrations.
Florida Poison Control Centers have a free 24/7 hotline to report illnesses including exposure to red tide: 1-800-222-1222
To report fish deaths in St. Petersburg, call the Mayor’s Action Center at 727-893-7111 or use St. Petersburg’s seeclickfix site.
Visit St. Pete / Clearwater, the county’s tourism wing, runs an online beach dashboard at www.beachesupdate.com.
Pinellas County shares information with the Red Tide Respiratory Prediction Tool which allows beach goers to check the warnings.
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How to stay safe near water
- Beach goers should avoid swimming around dead fish.
- People with chronic respiratory problems should be especially careful and “consider staying away” from areas where the red tide is present.
- People should not harvest or eat shellfish or distressed and dead fish from the area. Healthy fish fillets should be rinsed with clean water and the entrails discarded.
- Pet owners should keep their pets away from water and dead fish.
- Residents living near the beach should close their windows and run air conditioners with appropriate filters.
- Visitors to the beach may wear paper masks, especially if the wind is blowing.
Source: Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County