FORT MYERS, Fla — It has been about 3 years since Governor DeSantis’s appointed Blue Green Algae Task Force made recommendations in the Fall of 2019 to expedite the progress of reducing the adverse impacts of harmful algal blooms. So far, few of those recommendations have been implemented, according to a new report card issued by 12 different conservation groups.
According to the report card, 87% of the recommendations have not been fully implemented. To break that down further, that is 4 of 31 recommendations that have been fully implemented.
The Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation is one of those 12 groups backing this report card. Matt DePaolis is the Environmental Policy Director for the foundation. He says while there have been attempts to move more of these recommendations forward, they have ultimately fallen short.
‘“There have been opportunities for DEP to act on these,” said DePaolis. “There have been a couple bills that worked their way either through committee or into the House and Senate in 2021 and 2022, that then died either in committee or were not voted on at could have helped bring forward some of these recommendations.”
The groups say this has led to the continuation of persistent harmful algal blooms, a record number of manatee deaths, and an overall decline the water quality statewide. The group says the task force did its job, but the state isn’t doing theirs.
“The legislature and the agencies really aren’t moving at the intensity of the speed that we would have hoped to see once the science-based task force has issued its recommendation,” said DePaolis.
Dr. Barry Rosen, a professor at Florida Gulf Coast University studying algal blooms in Southwest Florida, tells me that the solutions aren’t so simple.
“Part of it is, you set up a task force,” said Dr. Rosen. “You scope out all the issues. And then you push like this sweet of environmental groups have for, hey these are some of the things you said needed to be done and it is beyond what scientists can do to ask the legislature and the Governor to make do; come to some of these same conclusions and put something in place.”
Dr. Rosen adds the problem is it will never be an instant answer. One example he gave in the phosphorus at the bottom of Lake Okeechobee.
“Even though they recommended doing something about it,” said Dr. Rosen. “A lot of these things have been thought about. A lot of these things have been explored. South Florida Water Management District has spent extensive amount of time exploring things that they can do to reduce the legacy phosphorus in Lake Okeechobee, which would help us on the Caloosahatchee, in the same reason. Not an easy fix.”
Dr. Rosen says the best thing we can do is to start with our local watershed and work your way up the Caloosahatchee on best practices with stakeholders and landowners to slow down the amount of nutrients moving through our watershed. He adds that it isn’t as simple as just killing the algae, can make the problem worse in our ways.
The Blue Green Algae Task did meet on Thursday at Florida Atlantic University. During the meeting, Dr. Mark Rains, Florida’s Chief Science Officer, made only one mention on the 2019 recommendations, saying quote “A lot of those changes have been implemented already, but a lot remains to be done.”
Fox 4 has reached out Florida DEP and Governor DeSantis Office for comment and have yet to hear back.