As dead marine animals continue to wash up on Florida’s coasts, a campaign event for the state’s term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Scott—who is attempting to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson—was “besieged” by a crowd of protesters angry about his role in exacerbating the ongoing red tide crisis by systematically attacking the state’s environmental protection laws.
“A red tide, or harmful algal bloom, is a higher-than-normal concentration of a microscopic alga (plantlike organism),” and they have been documented along the state’s coastline since the 1840s, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. But this year’s red tide—fueled by industrial as well as residential run-off and made worse by climate change—has been much more intense and destructive than previous ones.
“The aggressive overgrowth, which occurs each year but intensifies with high temperatures, pollution, and stagnant water, has become unusually strong since emerging in October, and has stretched into the longest outbreak since 2006,” the Huffington Post noted in August, citing officials who said that red tides typically end in April.
Amid more reports of fish killed by the toxic algae, and “with the noxious odor of red tide hanging in the air,” the Sarasota Tribune-Herald reported Monday that “protesters jammed the sidewalk and spilled into the street around Mojo’s Real Cuban, forcing Scott to enter the restaurant through the back door and leave the same way after just 10 minutes as members of the crowd shouted ‘coward.’”
The protesters toted signs that decried Scott’s environmental record and declared, “Say No to Red Tide Rick.” The crowd chanted “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Red Tide Rick has got to go,” and booed while the governor departed the restaurant and was quickly ushered into a black SUV by his security team.
While Scott responded to the red ted crisis in August by declaring a state of emergency for seven counties and allocating funds for clean-up and mitigation efforts, demonstrators argue those Band-Aids do not erase the destructive policies the governor has actively embraced. As the Herald-Tribune outlined:
Scott’s critics say his policies have exacerbated the problem. Red tide blooms start offshore but can feed on nutrients found in nearshore waters. Leaky septic tanks, lawn fertilizer found in stormwater runoff, and other factors can add to nutrient levels in nearshore waters.
Scott signed off on legislation that repealed a mandatory septic tank inspection program. The inspections were intended to identify failing septic tanks that are leaching pollutants.
The governor also cut $700 million from the state’s water management districts, which help implement a range of water quality programs. And Scott reduced staffing at the state Department of Environmental Protection and pushed to speed up and streamline environmental permitting, leading some to accuse the state of cutting corners in protecting the environment.
Nodding to the protests on Twitter, the Florida Democrats charged, “Scott can’t run from his record of eviscerating Florida’s environmental protections.”
Rick Scott was afraid to face his critics once again. He dodged protesters, took no questions from the media, and left his own campaign event after 10 minutes. Scott can’t run from his record of eviscerating Florida’s environmental protections. #FlaPolhttps://t.co/pguqgxewod
—Florida Democrats (@FlaDems) September 17, 2018
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Jessica Corbett is a Common Dreams staff writer.