ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— More than two dozen local businesses and conservation groups today asked Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency due to the ongoing red tide and fish kills in and around Tampa Bay. The St. Petersburg city council and mayor also have requested that the governor declare a state of emergency to help coordinate and fund desperately needed cleanup efforts and mitigate the worsening red tide.
The red tide appeared in Tampa Bay shortly after Florida regulators, in March, authorized the discharge of up to 480 million gallons of wastewater from the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack into Tampa Bay.
The Piney Point gypstack is a mountain of toxic waste topped by an impoundment of hundreds of millions of gallons of process wastewater, stormwater and tons of dredged spoil from Port Manatee. So-called “nutrient pollution” like ammonia, nitrogen and phosphorous from that discharge can significantly worsen red tides.
The hundreds of tons of dead marine life discovered in recent weeks has included manatees and goliath groupers, which can weigh hundreds of pounds, as well as puffer fish, eel, horseshoe crabs, sheepshead, mullet, snook, red drum, tarpon, sharks, grouper, catfish and numerous other species of fish.
“Red tide’s carnage is horrific and infuriating,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Tampa Bay desperately needs help cleaning up this mess, and Florida needs to get its act together and start holding polluters accountable or this will continue to be a significant threat to our way of life.”
“The current red tide outbreak clearly demonstrates Florida is not doing enough to hold polluters accountable for their actions,” said Glenn Compton, chairman of ManaSota-88. “It is time Florida’s weak water-quality standards be strengthened in order to prevent future red tide blooms.”
“Tampa Bay hasn’t been this sick since the 1970s when Clean Water Act regulations brought about the bay’s recovery,” said Justin Bloom, Suncoast Waterkeeper board member. “It is with a groundswell of public support that we call on our governor for leadership to protect and restore our bays and waterways.”
“Our right to clean water has been jeopardized and now is the time for action to protect Tampa Bay,” said Megan Eakins, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper board chair. “Our area needs the full support of our governor to take the actions necessary to mitigate this disaster and ensure this does not happen again.”
“Failure to remove dead and decaying marine life will exacerbate the intensity and duration of the red tide event,” said Andre Mele, executive director of Peace+Myakka Waterkeeper. “Dead marine life releases nutrients into the water column, which feeds the red tide organism and adds to the bloom, in a classic positive feedback loop.”
“Regrettably, Florida has not done enough to prevent massive fish kills like we’re currently seeing in Tampa Bay,” said Matt Rota, senior policy director at Healthy Gulf. “Perhaps if polluters like the Piney Point gypstack and other sources of nitrogen and phosphorous pollution were held accountable better, we wouldn’t see these devastating impacts of toxic algae in Florida waters and communities.”
“CCFW is very concerned with Florida’s water quality. Here in Cape Coral we have over 400 miles of canals that support aquatic, terrestrial and aviary wildlife,” said Paul Bonasia, president of Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife. “Red tide and algae blooms impact all three as well as the human population.”
“Failure to act on red tide should end in a failed second-term election for Gov. DeSantis,” said Clayton Louis Ferrara, executive director of IDEAS For Us, Inc.
“Why wasn’t FDEP prepared for the Piney Point disaster which undoubtedly was a major contributor to this red tide bloom,” asked Brooks Armstrong, president of People for Protecting Peace River. “What are your priorities, Gov. DeSantis?”
“As a business owner that utilizes our waters often, I have seen first-hand how these harmful algal blooms affect wildlife, public health and our economy,” said Cat Chase, owner of Cat Chase Media. “We are dependent on clean water for tourism, our precious wildlife and our health and I encourage Gov. DeSantis to declare a state of emergency to give the Tampa Bay area the help it needs right now.”
“The severity of this red tide is a result of the release of Piney Point’s wastewater in April, the excess nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizers, and a warming ocean,” said Gabi Da Silva, Florida field consultant with Moms Clean Air Force & EcoMadres. “Red tide negatively affects our tourism, economy, marine ecosystems and can have a serious effect on individuals with respiratory issues.”
“Tampa Bay has been a shining example of successful habitat restoration,” said Elizabeth Fleming, senior Florida representative at Defenders of Wildlife. “We need to remove dead fish and wildlife as soon as possible as their decomposition is fueling even more catastrophic red tide outbreaks, which could set back decades of process to restore the bay.”
“We must call the red tide crisis in Tampa Bay what it is: a state of emergency,” said Mary-Elizabeth Estrada, Tampa climate organizer for Florida Student Power Network. “We have a strong connection with the Gulf and Bay and know it is vital to mitigate these issues as quickly as possible before it affects our health and economy.”
“Gov. DeSantis is following Red Tide Rick Scott’s footsteps by allowing corporate polluters to treat our state as a dumping ground,” said Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation Voters. “We know what to do to reduce these toxic blooms; what’s lacking is the political will to get it done.”
“Nearly 50 years ago, amid the era of burning rivers and rampant environmental degradation, the Clean Water Act was enacted, and yet almost five decades later, too many decision-makers continue to ignore the lessons history has taught us,” said Patience Burke, Waterkeeper Alliance organizer for the Gulf and South Atlantic regions. “We are bearing witness to an ecological catastrophe and will face judgment over the next 50 years about how we do, or do, not respond.”
“Florida’s waters are necessary for a healthy environment and tourism, so failing to address red tide as an emergency is nothing short of negligent,” said Shawn Martin, chairman of Surfrider Florida Foundation Florida Keys chapter. “If the continued insults from water pollution are not addressed, our marine ecosystems and the economy built around them will fail.”
“The Suwannee River Basin has been lucky in avoiding red tide so far, but we don’t want it anywhere,” said John S. Quarterman, Suwannee Riverkeeper. “Beyond this emergency, let’s stop the excess fertilizers and phosphate mine waste that are causing this problem.”
The 215 million gallons of wastewater that was estimated to have been dumped into Tampa Bay from Piney Point continue to spread throughout the estuary and into Sarasota Bay, transporting tons of nitrogen and other pollutants into waterways and communities.
In June conservation groups filed a lawsuit against Gov. DeSantis, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, HRK Holdings, LLC and the Manatee County Port Authority over the imminent and substantial endangerment threatened by Piney Point as most recently demonstrated by the releases of the hazardous pollutants into Tampa Bay and groundwater.
The fertilizer industry creates more than 30 million tons of phosphogypsum in Florida each year. This waste is stored in mountainous piles called gypstacks that are hundreds of acres wide and hundreds of feet tall. Florida has 1 billion tons of radioactive phosphogypsum in 25 stacks, including the Piney Point gypstack and the New Wales gypstack.
Learn more about phosphogypsum and efforts to protect public health and the environment from its harms.