Florida Today Editorial Dec. 19, 2007

Red tide latest evidence of need for long-term policies to protect Florida’s coastal waters
The casualties mount: More sick people, more dead dolphins, more dead sea turtles, more dead fish.
And more concern about how long the trouble will last, and the impact it will have on public health, marine life and tourism.

We’re talking about the red tide plaguing Brevard County and other areas along Florida’s East-Central coast, a SOS from a sick sea if there ever was one. The scourge is nothing new along the Gulf Coast, which has been the victim of repeated blooms in recent years. For example, a new attack along the Panhandle from Pensacola to Panama City has been going on more than four months.

But the weeks-long outbreak here is unprecedented in Space Coast history.

Scientists still don’t understand the precise cause of the growing problem, but suspects abound:
The main ones include fertilizers washing down the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico and growing amounts of fertilizers, septic tank nutrients, and waste from cruise and gambling ships and South Florida sewage outfalls pouring into the Atlantic Ocean.

Major scientific reports have issued dire warning about the health of the world’s seas unless tough action is taken to protect them. Yet nowhere near enough is being done, as evidenced in Tallahassee.
Gov. Charlie Crist still has not thrown his full weight behind the Blueprint for Florida’s Economic and Environmental Leadership, which earlier this year issued a loud call to protect Florida’s coastal waters by attacking pollution, protecting fisheries and coordinating government action to get it down.
More than 160 businesses, agencies and organizations in Florida — including 68 in Brevard — have signed on. Crist should get with the program at once, especially with Florida’s tourism and fishing industries generating $60 billion a year.

Meanwhile, areas in Southwest Florida hit hard by red tide are making forceful moves to battle it by regulating fertilizers, which contain high levels of the nitrogen and phosphorus suspected of triggering the outbreaks.

Sarasota County is leading the way, passing a model law that requires slow-release fertilizers less prone to running off into waterways, 10-foot buffer zones between a water body and areas to be fertilized, and employee training for companies that apply fertilizers.

Lee and Charlotte counties are poised to follow suit and Brevard County Commissioners should do the same at a time when the fertilizer industry is using its money and power in the Legislature to fight such farsighted and badly needed initiatives.

Last year alone, two million tons of fertilizers were used in Florida with 500,000 tons spread on lawns and golf courses. Unknown amounts washed into waterways and eventually reached the sea, a process of degradation repeated year after year.

The Space Coast’s severe red tide outbreak had shaken the public out of its “it can’t happen here” mentality.

The ocean is shouting for help and bold steps are necessary at the federal, state and local levels to protect the planet’s great engine of life.

Failure to act now will result in more sick people, more dead marine life and the real possibility of large scale disaster to come.

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