Fishing, tourism, and recreation on Florida’s Gulf Coast supports 304,000 jobs and a $17.5 billion economy.1 Looking statewide, about 47% of the economy is reliant on coastal tourism, generating significant tax dollars that fund a full continuum of public infrastructure, schools, roads, health and community services that in turn are essential for keeping the region’s economy humming.
Known for its beautiful sandy beaches and diverse flora and fauna, the Sarasota/Tampa Bay region is a powerful magnet for tourists, businesses, universities, leading nonprofits, individuals and families from near and far. Its appeal is enhanced by the region’s border with the Gulf of Mexico, which is the only place in America with three natural estuaries.
However, the continued beauty and prosperity of the region is at serious risk. The release of 200 million gallons of phosphoric acid tailings water from Piney Point into the Gulf on April 20, 2021, created a potentially dangerous public health and economic crisis that threatens the “golden goose” of tourism on Florida’s shores, and specifically in the Gulf region.
The conditions in the Gulf may give rise to Red Tide, which causes major fish die-offs and serious respiratory illnesses among residents and tourists alike. Damage from the 2018 red tide episode resulted in 260 tons of sea life ending up in landfills, the loss of 2000 acres of seagrass in Sarasota Bay, and extensive economic and social stress across many community sectors. The outlook for the fishing industry, likewise, is dire if the issue of red tide is not addressed.
The time to act is now: to come together and collaborate on a healthy, thriving future for the Gulf Coast.
“We have great, unique resources here to be able to deal with some of these water quality issues by using a biological mitigation strategy … using natural resources that we have, seagrass and bivalves (specifically clams in this area) to clean water.”