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Some are criticizing the red tide report from DeSantis' algae task force for not going far enough

Jessica Meszaros
WUSF Public Media

One activist would like the Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force to analyze whether Florida's nutrient regulatory mechanisms are working, saying there could be something inherently wrong with them, or they're not being enforced by government agencies as designed.

A task force assembled by Gov. Ron DeSantis to study algae blooms recently released a red tide report on its progress and recommendations, but some advocates think the document is lacking.

The report expands on their original recommendations from January 2020, regarding public health, communications, and management and response.

The document also lays out what the Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force members have so far done. For example, in 2020, the FWC Center for Red Tide Research expanded a cooperative monitoring and research program for five years with Mote Marine Laboratory and the University of South Florida.

In 2021, they published a resource guide for public health response to harmful algae blooms in Florida, started work on a statewide public communications plan, and got multiple research projects funded.

Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the report talks a lot about things we already know. She said rather than looking into acquiring funds for more research, the task force missed a chance to identify policies that are already in place but not being enforced. The document didn't go far enough to uncover why the toxic blooms, which are fed by nutrient-rich water, can be so intense, according to Lopez.

"Where's the piece that talks about how we have all of these existing policies and laws that are designed to keep nutrient pollution out of our water, and how those might be performing in light of all of the red tide that we've been experiencing?" she asked.

The red tide report does say a long-term focal area of the group includes “improvements to current policies and procedures that prevent or mitigate the impacts of harmful algal blooms.”

The 12 members of Florida's Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force released a red tide report Dec. of 2021.
HAB Task Force Red Tide Report
The 12 members of Florida's Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force released a red tide report Dec. of 2021.

Lopez argues that the toxic blooms would not be fed by as much nutrient pollution if current policies were enforced, and then more resources wouldn’t need to be spent creating and enacting new policies.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, under DeSantis, is supposed to regulate nutrient pollution, but Lopez said certain entities continue to exceed their permit limitations and others may not have permits at all.

"So, if it's the governor's task force, I'm not sure how the task force appointed by and organized by the governor … how much flexibility they feel like they have to be calling attention to what's the really obvious issue here," she said.

Barbara Kirkpatrick, senior advisor for the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observation System, is on the task force. She said the voluntary group advises and does not regulate.

"Our main role is to identify gaps and harmful algal bloom response and monitoring. And I think the frustration for people might be that the recommendations are pretty high level," she said.

The task force is keeping a focus on red tide research, which she said is important because historically when red tide goes away for a while, so does the funding.

“I think one of our roles is to keep the need visible — both in Tallahassee and in Washington, D.C. — that these are not simple problems that are going to be solved in three or six months, that we need to keep smart people working on these,” said Kirkpatrick.

The red tide report says, “Florida is making progress, but much work remains. Problems will not be solved by a single ‘silver bullet.’ Instead, community leaders, industry leaders, regulators, policy makers, scientists, and citizens must resolve to work together on delivering a portfolio of innovations, science-based policy decisions, and financial investments that ensure Florida remains a world-class destination to live, work, and play.”

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Jessica Meszaros is a reporter and host of All Things Consideredfor WGCU News.