TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) -- Gov. Ron DeSantis and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried made appearances Tuesday along the Gulf Coast, offering competing views about an ongoing toxic red-tide outbreak.
Fried, the state agriculture commissioner, reiterated a call for DeSantis to declare a state of emergency to help combat the outbreak that has caused at least 600 tons of dead fish to wash up along Tampa Bay shores.
DeSantis, saying he's "happy about the progress" of the state's red-tide mitigation efforts the past three years, made a midday visit to Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota to promote the state's work to fight the current outbreak.
Toxic outbreaks on both coasts and in water coming out of Lake Okeechobee in 2018 drew federal assistance and attracted negative national media coverage.
Red tide is a naturally occurring growth of microscopic algae that feeds on nutrients, which could come from runoff from septic tanks, stormwater systems and agricultural and residential fertilizer.
Since 2019, the state has pumped $14.5 million into the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for its Center for Red Tide Research, which has a partnership with Mote Marine. Mote opened a 29,000-square-foot testing facility on Tuesday.
Fried, who was in Tampa on Tuesday as part of a three-day tour promoting new agriculture "best management practices," said a declaration of a state of emergency for the region could lessen the financial impact of the cleanup on local communities.
"You can smell the toxics. You can see the water, you can see the dead fish, it is that bad," Fried said while at Picnic Island Park in Tampa. "And minimizing it is almost going to be a slap in the face to all of our local businesses who are being directly impacted by this red tide."
Fried also said the pending best-management practice changes coming from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Office of Agricultural Water Policy will help reduce human impacts that have exacerbated the red-tide outbreak.
The agriculture changes will focus on supporting practices such as cover crops that are expected to slow erosion and bolster water availability. The changes are also expected to include recording nutrients used by growers, along with state workers making in-person site visits, replacing voluntary self-reporting about implementation of best management practices.
Local businesses, conservation groups and the St. Petersburg City Council have escalated demands for an emergency declaration to coordinate efforts to combat and clean up the red tide.
Earlier in the day, DeSantis was in Miami to announce the removal of the Old Tamiami Trail roadbed, a project that was completed six months ahead of schedule. The road, replaced by an elevated road, had been a long-time impediment to the natural southern flow of water through the Everglades.
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