Florida Forms Task Force, Commits $3M to Study Toxic Algae Blooms

Florida’s governor has created a new task force to help clean up the state’s lakes and rivers as lawmakers approved funding for research into toxic red tide that has affected the state’s coastline.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the formation of the Blue-green Algae Task Force during a news conference Monday at the Nathaniel P. Reed Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge.

“It’s one thing to go and get the resources, but I want to make sure when we’re applying those, we’re applying it the best possible way,” DeSantis said. “That we’re prioritizing the projects that are the most urgent and that we’re doing what we can to effectively deal with the nutrients, to deal with the algae, to deal with the red tide.”

The five-member group will make recommendations to reduce nutrients in Lake Okeechobee and downstream estuaries as well as look at connections to the red tide algal blooms that have affected Florida’s coasts, DeSantis said.

Members are Wendy Graham from the University of Florida, Evelyn Gaiser from Florida International University, Michael Parsons from Florida Gulf Coast University, James Sullivan from Florida Atlantic University and Valerie Paul from the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce. They will report to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection secretary.

Last year had the worst blue-green algae bloom in Florida history, an Ocean Conservancy report said earlier this year. That was coupled with a devastating red tide outbreak along the state’s beaches that caused respiratory irritations in people and killed sea turtles, manatees, dolphins and fish. It was one of Florida’s largest red tide blooms in its recorded history lasting 15 months.

The Florida Senate unanimously passed a bill last week aimed at controlling and alleviating red tide blooms. The House voted Tuesday to approve the bill and sent it to DeSantis for his signature. If signed, it would provide $3 million a year for the next six years for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Mote Marine Laboratory to research red tide.

Bill sponsor Republican Sen. Joe Gruters said the state has traditionally spent money on red tide research during a bloom, but the money dries up when the bloom ends.