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Florida's Ron DeSantis, Nikki Fried Offer Different Takes On Red Tide

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.

"What they're doing here in dealing with red tide may have applications for other types of algal blooms, like the blue-green algae that we have to deal with in Lake Okeechobee," DeSantis said. "So, I think that this was a really good investment. And I think it's going to pay dividends. Of course, red tide naturally occurs. We can't tell people there's not going to be any. But if you have successful mitigation strategies and technologies, you really make it to where this is not going to have the impact that it had in 2018."

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.

"We are fast-tracking the favorable technologies, and we are off-ramping any technology that demonstrates in this facility, and does greater harm than the red tide, we off-ramp it and we no longer considered that because our first goal is do no greater harm than the red tide itself," Mote Marine President and CEO Michael Crosby said.

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.

(©2021 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida's Jim Turner contributed to this report.)

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