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Pinellas Business Owners: Red Tide Affects More Than Fish

Bethany Tyne
WUSF Public Media
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Kathy Castor and Rep. Charlie Crist talk to local business owners about how red tide is affecting tourism in Pinellas County.

A group of hospitality workers, fishermen, a surf shop owner and scientists gathered Wednesday to share their concerns about the damage red tide is having on the environment and local businesses.

They met with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fl., and Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg. They said red tide and other threats like climate change have affected more than just the fish. 

Red tide made its way to Pinellas County in early September, but it’s been off of Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coast for almost a year. Mike Colby, a Boat Captain in Clearwater, says it has hurt every aspect of the county's tourism industry.

“It's causing too much pain to too many people,” he said. “Obviously not just anglers, but the whole chain of everything from airlines to hotels to restaurants and on and on and on.”

One local business, Nekton Surf Shop, has seen a direct impact in recent weeks.

“The dead fish ecotourism we’re trying to sell is not working,” said store manager Anne Lopez. “People are not interested in surfing over fish.”

The environmental issues have also eaten into profits at her vacation rental business, like other hotels in the area, because most people don't want to come to Florida if they can't actually go to the beach.

“In addition to red tide, I have a bank account that’s in the red,” Lopez said.

After the meeting, Marie Bourgeois from the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health said it was nice to see that there are a lot of different stakeholders in the community and around the state who are interested in addressing the problem.

“One of the nicest things is that people get a chance to look at all of the different factors that feed into this,” she said. “It’s not going to be a simple solution.”

Bourgois said it’s going to take a lot of time, effort and research to address and fix issues like red tide.

Sen. Nelson discussed the correlation between pollution, red tide, the higher temperature of the Gulf of Mexico and Hurricane Michael.

“I think it sends a clear message to us,” he said. “Climate change is upon us and we need to start taking is seriously. We need to stop polluting our water.”

Rep. Castor said "we have to believe in the science and we have to respect the science."

Bethany Hanson is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news reporter for spring 2018.
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