Hospitality is the largest employer sector in Tampa Bay and second only to healthcare and government in the nation. Florida and our Gulf beaches are America’s favorite vacation spot and had been becoming more and more popular every year with 71 million American tourists visiting us from the other 49 states in 2009. That number almost doubled only 10 years later in 2019 with 133 million visitors.
Total visitor numbers to Florida last year were just under 82 million due to travel restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. This was obviously devastating to everyone in the hospitality industry and even though we are not yet out of the COVID woods with the distressing impact of the Delta variant, hospitality is a resilient sector and already starting to slowly recover.
The last thing anyone needed was another hindrance.
If you live, work or play by the Gulf of Mexico or Tampa Bay you are already familiar with our next challenge: Karenia brevis.
Karenia brevis, for those of us without a PhD in marine biology, is the worrisome microscopic organism that turns the ocean a rusty color and makes breathing problematic for humans and catastrophic for aquatic life.
Karenia brevis is red tide, and it’s here.
The beaches are to Pinellas County what corn is to Iowa, what cheese is Wisconsin, what peaches are to Georgia. In short, beaches are our business.
Red tide is an algal bloom. It thrives in water that is warm and high in nutrients.The type of nutrients found in household lawn fertilizer and at wastewater treatment plants like the one at Piney Point which has been in the news recently for releasing 200 million gallons of wastewater into the ocean that many experts feel contributed to our current circumstance. Red tide also is self-sustaining in that the fish it kills turns into more nutrients that create more red tide. At the time of this article red tide has killed an estimated 3 million pounds of marine life.
There is, however, good news. Conditions are improving daily. Public and private efforts to remove dead fish from ocean and beaches have made an enormous impact on the nutrient levels as well as overall air quality. Fertilizer bans, which prohibit the application of any fertilizers containing nitrogen or phosphorus between June 1 and September 30, are being implemented in more communities across the Bay area, and Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection lawsuit filed this week against Piney Point should get the attention of other would-be contributors to the red tide problem.
Albert Einstein once said survival requires a “substantially new manner of thinking.” I agree, and I am confident in our ability to think differently.
Before long, life as we know it will return to normal. Tourists from everywhere will return to our award-winning beaches in droves, filling our hotels, restaurants and attractions.
Until then, please support your local establishments, and be patient as staffing and supply chains has been affected by the pandemic and red tide. Please be generous and compassionate with hospitality staff. And like Einstein said, let’s collectively have a substantial new manner of thinking when it comes to the treatment and protection of our environment, our hospitality industry workers and our community.
– Barry Rubin
Treasure Island & Madeira Beach Chamber of Commerce