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Florida Governor DeSantis announces in Englewood that the new Red Tide Task Force / Photo by Elaine Allen-Emrich

DeSantis announces red tide task force in Englewood

Florida Governor DeSantis announces in Englewood that the new Red Tide Task Force will complement the Blue Green Algae Task Force and the Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative, which is the partnership between the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute within FWC and Mote Marine Laboratory.

ENGLEWOOD — Gov. Ron DeSantis kept a promise Friday.

A year ago this month, then-candidate DeSantis came to the SandBar Tiki & Grille restaurant on Manasota Key to meet with business owners, fishing captains and residents to hear their distress over the toxic red tide blooms plaguing Southwest Florida.

“This problem undermines our economic future,” DeSantis said at the time, promising quick action if elected. “It affects people statewide. We also have the issue of health and safety.”

Fast-forward to Friday morning. Surrounded by state legislators, fishing guides and staff members, Gov. DeSantis returned to the SandBar restaurant to announce the enactment of a 10-member red tide task force.

The state already has a task force to address the freshwater blue-green algae problem and identify $10 million in projects to minimize the blooms fed by high-nutrient water discharges from Lake Okeechobee. The Army Corps of Engineers also is implementing different operational techniques to avoid rainy season discharges exploding into the algae blooms.

“I listened to a lot of the people who had a lot of problems with the red tide, and promised to take action,” he recalled. “We embarked on a number of initiatives right off the bat.”

DeSantis said he reactivated he Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s red tide task force that remained dormant and unfunded for 15 years. Legislators, he said, agreed with him to fund and resurrect the task force with $4.8 million. The task force will address causes of intense red tide blooms.

“This is one piece of the puzzle,” DeSantis said. “These are complex issues. I wish the answers were very easy. We are working to get the best answers and the best policies we can.”

The two tasks forces, will be working cooperatively with the Mote Marine Laboratory Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative, which will to address the impacts of the wake of blooms. The FWC and Florida Department of Environmental Protection will also work on toxic algae projects.

Capt. Tommy Locke, a Boca Grande tarpon and fly fishing guide for 30 years, said, “It’s absolutely the best start I’ve ever seen.”

Last year’s persistent and intense toxic red tide blooms, Locke said, had a devastating effect on him and others whose livings depend upon the health of the Gulf and other local waters. Local waters, he and others said, are on the mend, crediting lower water discharges from Okeechobee.

The bloom lasted from October of 2017 through November of 2018. It plagued residents and visitors with toxic fumes and the smell of decaying sea life, took a multi-million dollar financial toll on fishing charters, the local tourist industry, waterfront restaurants and resorts and their employees.

Eric Sutton, executive director of the Florida Wildlife Commission, accompanied the governor to Englewood.

“Having the task force is important,” Sutton said. “We know red tide is cyclical. We are very appreciative that there will be funding appropriated for the task force. It’s critical. We are fighting this on a local and state level. It’s not something we are scared of but are facing it and now with the right tools.”

Barbara Kirkpatrick is one of the newly appointed task force members. She is the executive director for the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observation System. She has more than 35 years of experience in human and environmental epidemiology.

After completing her graduate program, Kirkpatrick served as an associate professor at Manatee Community College in Bradenton, where she continued her research interests in human respiratory health.

In 1999, Kirkpatrick joined Mote Marine Laboratory as a staff scientist and shifted her research focus to environmental human health, particularly the respiratory effects linked to harmful algal blooms.

As a senior scientist and program manager at Mote, she continued researching the effects of harmful algal blooms on humans — particularly those who have chronic respiratory diseases.

She was the co-chair of the National Harmful Algal Bloom steering committee for six years and co-chaired the National HAB science meeting in 2013.

Kirkpatrick stood near DeSantis while he addressed the crowd Friday.

“We will be monitoring the nutrients in red tide and what can be done,” she said after the news conference.

The governor’s office called the SandBar on Thursday and asked to come there Friday to make the announcement.

“We are honored to have the governor come back to speak to the group of people he met with and made a promise to help last year,” said Rocket Atamanchuk, owner of the SandBar Tiki & Grille. “It’s the reason he got my vote. You would think he would slow down after he was elected, but he hasn’t. He’s keeping his promise to help with red tide. As a father, grandfather and business owner, I’m glad the governor has stood by his word. It affected our business so badly last year.”

After the announcement, the governor spent a few minutes shaking hands with Rocket’s grandchildren, 6-year-old Peyton and 5-year-old Aubree Lynn Atamanchuk. DeSantis said he needed to protect the environment for their future.

Community News Editor Elaine Allen-Emrich contributed to this article.

Email: Steve.Reilly@yoursun.com

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