MIAMI – The growing concern among Florida residents about the contamination by toxic algae on the beaches of a state whose economy depends on tourism has morphed into a movement to demand that politicians find solutions to the problem with all possible speed.
Thousands of people responded to the call issued by the Hands Along the Water group and joined hands on Sunday to form a human chain on Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf Coast beaches.
Rebekka Lee, one of the organizers of the event, told EFE that they are not currently thinking about calling new beach protests, but they have begun analyzing other possible activities in parks and in front of government buildings.
With their hands clasped for 15 minutes and their faces covered with masks, the demonstrators expressed their frustration in the face of an ecological crisis that is harming marine life, especially along Florida’s western Gulf of Mexico coastline.
After several weeks of seeing images of thousands of dead fish, dolphins and other marine animals washed up on the sand and waters tinted a bright bluish-green color, the image that stood out in media reports of the weekend protest was the cordon of people united against pollution.
Everything began with a message on the social networks saying: “What if 5,000 or 10,000 of us linked hands one morning on the beaches from Coast to Coast? We’d be on every TV station in the country. Do you have 15 minutes to spare for our beaches and wildlife?”
The message resonated strongly with many members of the public and was a warning for state authorities, who have been criticized for their lack of response to a problem that had arisen in other years but not with the intensity it is having this summer.
On Sunday, there were demonstrations in about 30 spots along Florida’s coasts from St. Petersburg, Tampa, Ft. Myers and Naples, on the state’s west coast, to Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Cocoa Beach, on the east coast.
In the Gulf of Mexico, which boasts some of the beaches deemed to be the best in the country, the basic problem is the proliferation of a micro-algae that eliminates the oxygen in marine waters.
The so-called “red tide” is a problem that has arisen almost every year along Florida’s western coast, but this summer it has been particularly widespread.
Environmental defenders are asking if the problem has been aggravated by a very harmful blue-green algae coming from polluted Lake Okeechobee, in central Florida, and which has passed through rivers and canals until it has reached the sea, especially on the east coast, due to discharges regularly made through an old dam.
The concern is not only for the environment but also for tourism, which is industry No. 1 in Florida, a state which in 2017 welcomed a record 116.5 million visitors, 3.6 percent more than the year before.