This initiative will support ecosystem sustainability and resilience. Restoring seagrass meadows and clam populations will result in improved water quality, reduced algal blooms, and heathier habitats for commercial and recreational fisheries in the Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay, and Charlotte Harbor estuaries.
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, and it is the only place in America with three nationally recognized estuaries.
However, the continued beauty and prosperity of the region is at serious risk. The release of 200 million gallons of nutrient-laden wastewater from Piney Point into the Gulf from March 30 – April 9, 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 Gulf of Mexico has historically been subject to outbreaks of “red tide,” a microscopic marine algae bloom that typically begins offshore but can be transported to nearshore, coastal environments – where increased nutrient runoff has the capacity to “feed” the bloom and make conditions worse. Red tide, which can cause 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 red tide continues to regularly impact the region at these devastating levels.
The time to act is now: to ask the stakeholders of the region to come together and collaborate on a healthy, thriving future for the Gulf Coast.