Last week, Florida Governor Rick Scott issued a state of emergency due to the extreme red tide algae bloom that is responsible for the widespread death of thousands of sea creatures.
The order applies to the counties of Charlotte, Collier, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota.
"Biologists and scientists (will be made) available to assist in clean-up and animal rescue efforts," Scott said in a news release.
In the past month alone, workers have cleaned up more than 2.7 million pounds of dead fish and sea creatures that have washed up onshore. Hundreds of sharks, dolphins, sea turtles and manatees have also been killed in the red tide since the beginning of the summer.
This type of algae bloom is naturally caused and not a threat when at normal levels, however, a number of human-influenced factors contribute to turning this into an environmental disaster. Experts believe that the main culprit is fertilizer runoff caused by one of the state's largest industries, sugar farms.
In 2004, Researchers from Stanford University's School of Earth Sciences found direct evidence linking fertilizer runoff to harmful algae blooms
According to a press release, researchers made the discovery by analyzing satellite images of Mexico's Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California— narrow, 700-mile-long stretch of the Pacific Ocean that separates the Mexican mainland from the Baja California Peninsula.
"I looked at five years of satellite data. There were roughly four irrigation events per year, and right after each one, you'd see a bloom appear within a matter of days," Mike Beman lead author of the study said.
In the case of Florida, the red tide is being created by an industry that would have no chance of survival in the state, or the country, if it was not for government subsidies and protections propping them up. Florida is the only place in the United States that can grow sugar decently year-round, but the region is still outpaced by South and Central America in terms of production, quality, and cost.
Despite the fact that it would be far cheaper and more efficient to import sugar, US politicians have had an ongoing obsession with keeping this industry in the states and used a long list of subsidies and tariffs to ensure that sugar is produced domestically.
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When looking at the relationship between politicians and the Florida sugar industry, it becomes apparent why these protections seem so important to the political establishment.
According to a review of state Division of Elections records carried out by the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald, the sugar industry in the state of Florida donated over $57.8 million to local and state political campaigns, that does not even include federal donations.
During the 2016 presidential election, Miami New Times reported that The Fanjul brothers, owners of Florida Crystals, the state's largest and most controversial sugar producer, were donors to both the Clinton and Trump campaigns. Each brother reportedly hosted large fundraisers for a different candidate.
Critics and environmental advocates have pointed out that these donations result in government officials turning a blind eye to the industry's pollution, and failing to enforce the 1996 "polluter pays" amendment that was voted into the Florida constitution, which would hold these companies financially responsible for their environmental impact.
"You have a major industry that is saying, 'We are so powerful we don't want to pay for our pollution treatment. … Taxpayers, you are going to pay for it. Tough luck,'" said Albert Slap, board member for the Friends of the Everglades environmental group.
This problem was set into motion over 100 years ago, when the US government and the state of Florida poured millions of dollars into a project that foolishly drained the Everglades, for the purpose of making room for farms, most of which ended up being sugar farms.
CJ of the Dangerous History Podcast laid out the history of the sugar industry in this region during his podcast series "Rise of the Cane Kingdom."
CJ described the situation by saying:
"Over the past century, large-scale sugar cane cultivation was developed in what became known as the Everglades Agricultural Area, the region just south of Lake Okeechobee, historically a part of the Everglades ecosystem which was drained in the early- to mid-twentieth century. However, making sugarcane cultivation in this area feasible & profitable has required massive amounts of government subsidization, including: draining the land in the first place & maintaining flood control infrastructure ever since; funding soil experiments; assisting sugar companies in finding cheap, controllable labor until the coming of mechanization in the 1990s; and keeping out foreign sugar & keeping the US sugar price artificially above the world price (usually 2-3x higher.) The sugar companies that receive all of this welfare often get to “profit” immensely, and up until a few decades ago were allowed to wreck havoc on South Florida’s ecosystem with impunity."
You can listen to part 1 of the podcast in the player below: