Noisy protesters furious about the toxic red tide fouling waters and killing marine life along Gulf Coast beaches drove Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott from a campaign stop at a restaurant Monday.
Protesters shouted “coward” and “hey, hey, ho, ho, Red-Tide Rick has got to go” as Scott ducked into a Cuban restaurant in Venice for just 10 minutes amid the din. He took no questions from reporters and skipped a speech to supporters who had gathered at the restaurant before he departed, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported.
Scott, who’s challenging Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, is in the hot seat for his poor environmental record as governor, particularly for cutting funds for environmental agencies. The mounting red algae bloom has killed more than 100 tons of fish (along with sea turtles and manatees), shutting down tourism in scenes that resemble science-fiction apocalyptic scenarios.
People are also affected. If ingested, touched or inhaled, the algae can cause nausea, vomiting and, in severe cases, acute liver failure and neurological issues, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scott has declared a state of emergency.
The relentless red tide devastation has come at a bad time for Scott’s campaign. The governor has been blaming his rival for not doing enough in the Senate, but that message didn’t seem to be connecting Monday.
Red tide has long been a recurring problem, but this is one of the worst in more than a decade, and critics say Scott’s policies have magnified it. Red algae blooms begin offshore, but can feed on nutrients from shore, such as fertilizers and leaky septic tanks. Scott scuttled legislation requiring septic tank inspections, and cut $700 million from water management districts to implement water quality programs.
The red tide bloom has lingered for nearly a year along a stretch of southwest Florida. A separate blue-green algae bloom that originated in Lake Okeechobee is fouling estuaries on both coasts.