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DeSantis Dismisses Red Tide State Of Emergency, Says Progress Being Made

Governor DeSantis at podium
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Gov. Ron DeSantis is backed by local and state environmental officials during a news conference in St. Petersburg

Gov. Ron DeSantis, in St. Petersburg to see the devastation to Tampa Bay caused by red tide, said a state of emergency — requested by the city and business and environmental groups — is not necessary to support the efforts.

It's been a month since Gov. Ron DeSantis last visited St. Petersburg to discuss red tide.

Since then, Pinellas County crews have hauled more than 1,320 tons of dead fish from Tampa Bay. DeSantis says the state is already supporting the efforts with money and resources.

"We developed a dedicated funding source in the annual budget to respond to red tide events, to respond to blue-green algae and significant impacts, just like the one that we've been experiencing now," he said.

Much of the support comes from a state task force established after the last major red tide outbreak in 2018.

"We do have capacity to help with even more financial assistance," he said, "and so if there's an ability to do even more, let's work together and do it."

DeSantis responded to criticism that he's failed to declare a state of emergency, saying the state established a dedicated funding source to fight red tide and blue-green algae since last year. It, too, was created following the 2018 outbreak.

Various business and environmental groups — as well as by the city of St. Petersburg — have sent a letter to DeSantis asking for the declaration.

"This is something I've tackled since Day One in office. It's never been political," he said. "They were the ones saying you've got to declare a state of emergency. And so we asked them why? Well, they didn't know why. They just wanted to do it for a political talking point. The fact is we budgeted for this. We have money for this."

DeSantis said more than $2 million of it has been used toward mitigation and cleanup for this effort.

Officials did say red tide seems to be abating in the waters of Tampa Bay, but is now being spotted off the southern Pinellas County beaches — from Fort DeSoto up to Dunedin.

Top officials with the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Department of Environmental Protection have been touring Tampa Bay, coordinating their response efforts.

"We are going to make sure that we are readily accessible to whatever level of government that needs support," said interim DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton. "This is a challenging issue when it starts jumping various boundaries and regions, etc., but the point is coordination and communication, right?"

The state has fixed-wing aircraft and a helicopter that are being used to spot blooms offshore. DeSantis said an underwater robot is collecting samples every 30 minutes and has processed 500 samples this week alone.

A technician looks at a water sample
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Scientists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are processing Tampa Bay water samples.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.