TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Billions of dollars in annual economic impact and more than a million jobs, and the Florida Ocean Alliance says both are provided and supported by Florida’s coastal waterways, seaports, and beaches.
The nonprofit is a nonpartisan group of “private industry, trade, academic and environmental organizations promoting awareness and understanding of the ocean’s importance to the economy and environment of Florida.”
Each Feb. 1, the group celebrates Florida Oceans Day, and as it has in years past, plans to celebrate the occasion in 2022 by advocating for its mission at the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee.
“The Florida coastline is the longest in the continental United States,” said founder Jim Murley, who’s also the Chief Resilience Officer for Miami-Dade County. “Like many groups, we come to the capital during session to be sure that our leaders…in Tallahassee are up to date on the assets that we have along the coastline and in the oceans.”
Both Murley and Laura DiBella, the Vice President of the Alliance and the Executive Director of the Florida Harbor Pilots Association, say there is reason to celebrate on Florida Oceans Day. They say Florida’s “blue economy” — the economy supported by the state’s connection with the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean — is booming.
“I’m on the industry side. We’ve never seen so much activity come our way,” said DiBella. “We just have so much more runway ahead of us, you know, as far as what our potential is.”
However, Murley said a myriad of obstacles must be overcome to preserve the state’s coastal resources.
“When you have something you really love, you have to be careful you don’t over-love it, and I think we have to constantly monitor the impacts of having 20+ million people and maybe another 30 million tourists visiting every day and over long periods of time that make living in Florida so different,” Murley said. “We really are a state that is dependent on wise stewardship of our resources so we can improve them and leave them for future generations.”
Murley said, for one, the state must continue fighting back against sea-level rise.
“Working for a local government, it’s something we have to try to apply every day,” he said.
Additionally, he would also like to see more work done to improve water quality and fight the loss of seagrasses and the prevalence of red tide, which hit Tampa Bay hard last summer.
“I would love to see a continued attention on funds to remove septic tanks, especially from coastal areas, and get them onto sewers that are well maintained,” he said. “I think it is important for the state to maintain a regulatory perspective on this to be sure we don’t have actions that make the situation worse, but then to invest with local government — with private sector folks — in long-term solutions that are going to improve the water quality and then maintain it over time.”
Murley says state lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis have already taken significant steps to give some of these issues attention and funding, but he says continued attention and funding will be key.
“We live in such a critical, fragile piece of land really, literally, almost floating on water, surrounded by water, so everything we do could potentially have an impact,” he said.
He said ordinary Floridians play an impact too in protecting coastal areas by taking steps that are in their power, whether it’s fertilizing less or recycling more.