Bacterial ‘red tide’ toxin devastates marine life along Florida’s Gulf Coast

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In recent weeks, more than 600 tons of marine life have been found dead amid an explosive growth of bacteria along the beaches of Florida’s Gulf Coast. The rapid spread of the harmful toxin, known as the ‘red tide flower’, has been recklessly encouraged by human-induced nutrient pollution, primarily in the Tampa Bay area, which is life-threatening. endangered wildlife and humans.

Massive flooding of red tide bacteria that killed large numbers of fish has been reported in many counties in the region, including Pinellas (St. Petersburg), Hillsborough (Tampa) and Pasco. Investigations into the deadly bacteria revealed they were the result of above-normal algae growth along the Florida coastline.

The National Weather Service issued a warning for Florida’s Gulf Coast on Friday regarding the respiratory dangers residents face due to the encounter of harmful bacteria from the red tide. The warning was aimed in particular at Pinellas County, where a beach hazard statement has been put in place to warn beach goers and local authorities of respiratory irritation caused by the outbreak.

A red tide. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration image credit / Wikipedia)

In opposition to calls from environmentalists, fishermen and local officials to declare a state of emergency to deal with the crisis, Gov. Ron DeSantis pushed back calls for an emergency declaration at a press conference on Thursday in St. Petersburg.

Although the governor told media that the state had raised enough funds to ameliorate the disaster, nothing was said about how the crisis would be tackled in the coming weeks or any planned strategic plan. Most telling during the conference was the governor’s tacit admission that a declaration of emergency would create more problems for the state’s profitable vacation hotspots and than a larger-scale public health response. would affect tourism income.

The type of dangerous algae appearing around the bay and coves in the state is known as Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB). Carenia b revise, a marine phytoplankton that grows in algal blooms. K. b revise are known to come together under conditions of three ingredients: low salinity water, warm waters, and nutrient-rich waters.

Blooms such as red tide are significant threats to life and well-being as they can lead to major respiratory problems in people. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, K. brevis produces toxins that cause “neurotoxic shellfish poisoning”. The bacteria can endanger humans when they ingest shellfish contaminated with toxins. This can lead to numbness, tingling, loss of coordination, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Perhaps most worryingly, hospital records researchers discovered after analyzing hospital records that respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses increase during periods of red tides. In one study, hospital admissions for respiratory diagnoses increased 54% for coastal residents.

Asked about the refusal to implement an emergency response, DeSantis said in Thursday’s press conference that it “would hurt some of these people. [tourists] because that would send the message that somehow all of Florida is in trouble.

St. Petersburg Democratic Mayor Rick Kriseman pleaded with DeSantis for more help to derail the toxin flood on the city’s coastline. The DeSantis administration responded with hostility, as a spokesperson issued a statement accusing Krisemen of “deliberately lying and using Red Tide to try to score cheap political points.”

Krisemen, who was not invited to the press conference, criticized DeSantis on Twitter for “politicizing” the state’s response, before calling the administration’s actions “really disgusting.”

Denying the accusation, DeSantis unconvincingly claimed that the threat of algae blooms was something he had “addressed from day one” during his tenure. The right-wing governor also claimed that the state had prepared in advance for red tide epidemics and had the resources to resolve the crisis.

This statement is belied by the fact that administration and state officials ignored warnings from scientists in April of this year when a massive amount of nutrient-rich sewage was dumped into Tampa Bay at from the Piney Point Phosphate Plant, an industrial site in Manatee County. While it took months to discern the full impact of the crash, pollution experts feared the high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus in the wastewater were dangerous, as they are known to fuel the growth of the phytoplankton and toxic algal blooms.

Three weeks before a dangerous emergency was publicly dispatched to evacuate residents of nearby Manatee County, a dangerous leak had occurred at Piney Point, which has been missing since 2001. The facility houses piles of phosphogypsum, a radioactive substance toxic which is commonly used in the manufacture of fertilizers. Phosphogypsum has been placed in open-air ponds and has been used as part of accumulated solid waste piles, which can reach up to five storeys while becoming grossly effective containment ponds for liquid waste.

Managing open-air ponds requires 24-hour surveillance. In the Piney Point leak, the plastic liner of an inch-thick sewage pond tore, releasing thousands of wastewater. gallons per day in the sediment below. Despite crews’ efforts to plug the berm, hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage eventually spilled out.

An investigation by the Tampa Bay Times Following the leak quickly confirmed that the environmental disaster was the product of criminal negligence and the subordination of public safety to the profit interests of financial companies. The crisis was sparked after the current owner of the site, private investment firm HRK Holdings, added waste from a Port Manatee dredging project to the gyp piles at Piney Point. This despite opposition from the US Army Corps of Engineers, which warned that the project could involve unacceptable risks.

These warnings have been repeatedly swept under the carpet even after an independent engineering company hired to assess the site in March 2020 discovered imminent danger of “catastrophic damage to the public and the environment” due to ” the unknown and probably compromised condition ”of the liner.

Many environmental organizations have issued statements denouncing the failure of the governor’s response to deter the red tide. Many have lambasted the governor for giving the green light to the same disastrous and negligent policies of his predecessor, Rick Scott, now a United States Senator. Scott was embroiled in a similar crisis in 2018 when a massive red tide along Florida’s southwest coast killed around 2,000 tons of marine life and caused widespread damage to state and local businesses.

Scott’s tenure as governor is infamous for cutting funding for water management security in all districts and eliminating environmental regulations. Shortly after becoming governor in 2011, Scott led budgets that cut funding for water management boards by more than $ 700 million. The South Florida Water Management District, the agency that works on restoring the Everglades and advising the Army Corps of Engineers on Lake Okeechobee discharges, has seen its budget cut nearly in half and been forced to lay off more than 100 people.

While falsely hailing budget cuts as the only method to protect state waters, Scott signed a law that caps the amount of property taxes water management districts could collect. Revealing his contempt for any regulatory restrictions that hamper the interests of the corporate and financial elite, Scott said in a press release announcing the cuts that they would allow “businesses to use more of their hard-earned money in the way that ‘they see best, rather than having to send it to a government agency.

Over the following years, the cuts weakened the environmental protections of the state’s wetlands, springs and rivers threatened by pollution. To date, budgets for water districts statewide are still $ 400 million less than when Scott took office. Scott also repealed a 2010 law requiring septic tanks to be inspected once every five years to reduce toxic wastewater flowing into freshwater streams. Environmentalists say the leaky, unregulated and uncontrolled reservoirs are helping fuel algal blooms on the Gulf Coast.


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