Tampa Bay ‘better than last week,’ but anglers worry as red tide battle continues

The consensus among environmental and wildlife experts in St. Petersburg on Wednesday is the effects of a red tide bloom in the bay seemed to have improved since last week.

However, officials urge that red tide has and will remain a west Florida problem and communities need to be proactive.

"Let’s get ahead of it," said Frank Chivas, who is part of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s board of directors. "This is not a one-person problem, but it’s all of Florida’s problem. As we face 1,300 tons of dead marine life and debris – that’s just alone in Tampa Bay – it’s immensely impacting fisheries, tourism, public health. We need the state, local officials in the community to collaborate and communicate."

Chivas went on to say more boats will be essential to help with cleaning up the dead fish.

"Get ‘em to the dump, get ‘em burnt up," he said. "This thing is moving into the beach."

Governor Ron DeSantis started Wednesday’s press conference saying he ventured out on the bay on a boat and was "pleased."

"I was pleased to hear that the bay looks a lot better than it did last week. I think the reason for that is everyone was on board to mitigate. It really makes a difference," he said. "You can see it – not just by being there in the boat – you look at the satellite imagery…compare today to last week, it’s definitely been an improvement. We hope that will continue."

He said he believes when Elsa drifted parallel along the coast, it pushed blooms into Tampa Bay.

The governor says he reconstituted the state’s red tide task force, steered millions of dollars into research, and is ready to spend millions more on red tide clean-up

"We’ve put an immense amount of resources and had we not done what I did to set the table for this when I first became governor, we wouldn't have been able to do half the stuff we’ve been able to do," said DeSantis. 

Also in attendance at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute were community and state leaders, wildlife officials, and businesses owners who collectively praised the relationship between local and state governments so far.

"I couldn’t have been more proud of the effort from our cities," said David Eggers, a Pinellas County commissioner. "We wouldn’t be here today with a cleaner bay if it wasn’t for that group effort."

St. Petersburg City Council Chairman Ed Montanari, who was among a group of local officials and business leaders the governor called "heavy hitters," added, "I’m so impressed with the way that local government, county government, and state government has worked together.

One official absent from the group was St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. Just moments before the Wednesday morning press conference began, the spokesperson for St. Petersburg’s mayor said Rick Kriseman was not invited to the event.

"Mayor Kriseman again not invited to the [sic] join the governor and his red tide roundtable today in St. Pete," Benjamin Kirby said in a tweet.

When the press conference began, Kriseman shared the following message on Twitter

"The politicization of the governor's response to red tide is truly sickening. My team and I are focused on fixing the mess that was sent our way. When crisis comes, partisanship must go. We should always come together in times like this."

During a question-and-answer session, DeSantis fired back at the mayor's message.

"How did I politicize red tide?" the governor said. "This is something I tackled from day one in office. They were the ones who were saying, ‘You got to declare a state of emergency.’ We asked them, ‘Why?’ They didn’t know why."

Kriseman didn’t comment on the governor’s remarks, but his spokesman, Ben Kirby issued a statement, saying in part: "While the governor’s leadership and presence would have been appreciated during the height of red tide's impact on St. Petersburg (we understand traveling to the Mexican border took precedence). We are pleased to have the governor back in St. Pete. We hope he gets a chance to see how well our city teams and partners have cleaned up the bay and our shorelines and we hope he pledges to continue to support our efforts and empower the DEP and FWC."

RELATED: FWC, DEP set up office in St. Petersburg to monitor red tide

The governor went on to say the state has budgeted for red tide responses.

"We represent nearly a thousand businesses on the beaches," said Robin Miller, CEO and president of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce. "A state of emergency does not help our economic vitality at all and what it does it shines a light on the entire state of Florida. There could be ramifications outside of the Bay Area. We’ve seen it in other crisis situations."

PREVIOUS: DeSantis: No plan to declare state of emergency for red tide

"Personally, I think the most important thing, if you want to stop all the social media stuff and everything, get the damn fish cleaned up," Chivas said following Miller's remarks. "That’s what needs to happen, and that’s what they’re doing."

DeSantis said a state of emergency wouldn’t change the mitigation efforts currently happening.

"The only way that would be helpful is if I had no money, and I had to access unallocated general revenue," he added. "We appropriated for this -- not just red tide, but blue-green algae. So literally the only thing that will do is hurt some of these people because it would send the message that somehow all of Florida has problems."

MORE: Seagrass suffers as red tide kills fish faster than crews can remove them

In St. Petersburg, more than 800 tons of dead fish were collected and 200 employees were recruited from across city departments to help with the cleanup efforts. Last week, the city said $350,000 has been spent on overtime and $700,000 for the overall effort. That's $61,000 per day.

Over the weekend, Coffee Pot Park showed signs of improvement, officials reported. 

After Kriseman made a plea for help last week, the governor’s office slammed his comments saying they are helping and there is no need for a state of emergency because they recently created a fund through the Department of Environmental Protection to deal with the crisis.

"At my direction," DeSantis said Wednesday, "the state has been working with the local communities here in Pinellas County and Hillsborough County."