Guest editorial: Testing the politics of red tide science
So is politics.
Science combined with politics is really hard.
Ask Michael Crosby, the chief executive officer of Sarasota-based Mote Marine Laboratory, who has been swept up in the politics of red tide science.
Red tides, including the episode that has ravaged the Southwest Florida coast this summer and threatens to linger, have long been the subject of study by Mote and other science-based organizations.
This isn’t the first time harmful algal blooms have devastated marine life, decimated the tourist-based economy and caused respiratory ailments among residents and visitors. The 2005-06 and 1994-96 events, for example, had similar impacts.
But the current event, which has dissipated but not disappeared, has created an unprecedented level of public outrage and political reaction for at least four powerful reasons: the intensity of the outbreak and its impacts on wildlife and businesses; the popularity of social media, which is spreading images of tons of fish washed up onshore, as well as fact and fiction; dramatic photographs of bright, blue-green freshwater algae making their way from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico; an election year that features closely fought, high-profile campaigns for state and federal offices.
Red tides have put Mote Marine on the defensive in the past, due in part to widely held expectations that the research institute should have found a cure for the harmful algal blooms by now.
Tensions have been exacerbated recently as Gov. Rick Scott, whose commitment to limiting nutrient-level runoff has been questioned, proposed increased funding for research and testing by Mote and other organizations.