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Why is one of Florida's worst polluters sponsoring one of the state's most powerful and prominent environmental organizations?
MOTE Marine Labs, based in Sarasota, FL, is a non-profit, environmental advocacy organization. While positioning themselves as "Guardians of the sea, and all living things that depend on it," their experts uniformly express skepticism about the role of land- and pollution-based factors in the worsening Red Tide, one of Florida's most persistent environmental disasters affecting sea life. While they acknowledge nutrients play a role, they consider it a minimal one, which is why they consistently describe Red Tide as a "natural" phenomenon.
MOTE's position is that because Red Tide blooms are believed to originate 10-40 miles offshore, away from the direct influence of land-based nutrient pollution, as well as the deliberate dumps of Lake Okeechobee water by the Army Corp of Engineers, human activities should play a minimal if negligible role in the worsening outbreaks.
But the most accurate and recent research reveals that once moved inshore, blooms use both human-contributed and natural nutrients for growth, rendering the question of where it orginates of far lesser, strictly academic importance. Red tide, like a flame, won't grow or be sustained without fuel. The fuel is coming en masse from the land, and from Lake Okeechobee -- both domains under human control and therefore far from "natural."
Indeed, Data collected along the southwest coast of Florida between Tampa Bay and Sanibel Island on the abundance of the Red Tide from 1954 to 2002 were examined for spatial and temporal patterns. Red Tide was found to be approximately 20-fold more abundant within 0-5 km of the shoreline than 20-30 km offshore.
Despite this compelling evidence, MOTE believe the science is too complex and far from settled on the topic. this is why they are focused on the need for more research, as well as more funding for that research. MOTE has already received more than $5.5 million in state funding for red tide research, and appears slated to receive more soon thanks to their friendly relationship with Rick Scott. MOTE's fund-raising efforts are not focused exclusively on research. At present, MOTE is trying to raise 130 million dollars for the construction of a new, 110,000 square foot aquarium which they estimate will require 280 million dollars of direct and indirect expenditures to complete.
MOTE has received millions of dollars over the years from government grants, public donations, and corporate sponsorships. One of their sponsors is the Mosaic Corporation, who is one of Florida’s worst and most heavily fined polluters, and listed as a "corporate benefactor" on their website. 1
Mosaic's financial contributions to MOTE include a $125,000 grant for their Snook Enhancement Program. The exact details and amounts of Mosaic's other contributions are not known, but according to a MOTE spokesperson, Mosaic has supported their educational programs including their "digital learning studio," "events, membership programs," and "MOTE's annual fundraising 5K and 1-mile race event, Run for the Turtles." A MOTE spokeperson stated that they believe this is not a conflict of interest because, "Mosaic currently provides NO direct funding or in-kind support to Mote research programs."
We disagree that this is not a conflict of interest. This is a significant level of support coming from a strip-mining company whose manufacturing plants produce the kind of phosphorous rich fertilizers that lead to algal growth both in Lake O’ (green), and (we believe) the Gulf of Mexico, and whose phosphogypsum stacks of radioactive material laden waste products pile up throughout Florida to the tune of about 1 billion tons stacked in 25 locations in Florida, 22 of which are in central Florida.
An EarthJustice article describes the environmental consequences of the Mosaic company's activities in Florida:
"Minnesota-based Mosaic Phosphate scrapes off Florida’s surface land to get down to the bones of ancient sea creatures, which contain phosphate. The mining leaves behind a moonscape with scars that are visible from space. The phosphate from these ancient sea sediments is then chemically processed into phosphoric acid used in fertilizer and sold around the world. The process leaves behind massive mountains of radioactive, acidic waste that can tower 50 to 70 feet high. Some two dozen of these mounds are scattered around South-Central Florida, posing a huge environmental risk."
Mosaic also manages about 6,000 acres of citrus groves north of Lake O’ in Polk and Hardee counties, all of which eventually end up bleeding nutrients into Lake O’ southward, and from there, into the Gulf of Mexico.2 Mosaic has gained great notoriety for having been ordered by the EPA to pay billions of dollars by the EPA for recklessly polluting Florida and Louisana's environment with the radioactive by-product of phosphorous mining operations.3 They were also recently found to have let millions of gallons of radioactive waste contaminated water seep deep into Florida’ drinking water aquifer.4
Video: Phosphate Mining is Florida's Dirty Little Secret
Mosaic's sponsorship of MOTE, and MOTE's willingness to accept it despite the obvious conflict of interest, raises red flags when one considers they consistently minimize the role of land-based activities on increasing the Florida Red Tide frequency and severity.
MOTE's stance on this issue has been used by other industries in the state of Florida whose activities are known to contribute to the problem, namely, U.S. Sugar:
“The Facts on Red Tide
In media reports, some activists have attempted to link the water from U.S. Sugar’s farms to red tide blooms off the Gulf Coast. The science simply does not support this. Here is what Mote Marine Laboratory, the leading expert on Florida Red Tide, has to say about what causes red tide:6
"In contrast to the many red tide species that are fueled by nutrient pollution associated with urban or agricultural runoff, there is no direct link between nutrient pollution and the frequency or severity of red tides caused by K. brevis. Florida red tides develop 10-40 miles offshore, away from man-made nutrient sources. Red tides occurred in Florida long before human settlement, and severe red tides were observed in the mid-1900s before the state’s coastlines were heavily developed. However, once red tides are transported inshore, they are capable of using man-made nutrients for their growth" Source:Mote Marine Laboratory, “Florida Red Tide FAQs.“
Similarly, Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Commission, tasked with monitoring and informing the public about the Red Tide problem, parrots verbatim MOTE’s perspective in their FAQ section:
“Has coastal (nutrient) pollution caused the Florida red tide?
In contrast to the many red tide species that are fueled by nutrient pollution associated with urban or agricultural runoff, there is no direct link between nutrient pollution and the frequency or severity of red tides caused by K. brevis. Florida red tides develop 10-40 miles offshore, away from man-made nutrient sources. Red tides occurred in Florida long before human settlement, and severe red tides were observed in the mid-1900s before the state’s coastlines were heavily developed. However, once red tides are transported inshore, they are capable of using man-made nutrients for their growth.”7
It should also be noted that in the past, MOTE scientists have also attempted to minimize the true harms associated with the public's exposure to Red Tide. During the last major outbreak in 2013, ABC7 interviewed Mote Marine Laboratory's senior scientist Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick on Feb. 27th about whether there are any long-term effects of red tide on humans, to which she responded "I don't think there's any evidence yet that we have to worry about long-term exposure." This is diametrically opposed to the peer-reviewed, published science on the topic which I cite in depth in my article : The Truth About Red Tide's Manmade Causes and Health Effects.
Call To Action
We call on MOTE marine to separate itself from its conflict of interest with Mosaic and other corporate polluters and address formally the research which proves the causes of the worsening frequency and intensity of Red Tide blooms are directly related to human, land-based activities and the government's water management policies. We also call on them to update their RED TIDE FAQ's which deny the afforementioned science.
Whether it means stopping sewage spills, stopping septic tank leaks, and stopping lake O' discharges the science proves that if we want to have healthy beaches we must admit the obvious causes and help to stop the pollution now. Visit MOTE's facebook page to express your concern, Sign this petition, and join the South Florida's Clean Water Movement.
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