Stepping out of my car, a tingling sensation quickly crept up in the back of my throat as I took my first breath of the salty sea breeze. It was only a matter of seconds before I released a powerful cough from the deepest part of my chest. Shocked at the instantaneous onset of symptoms, but determined to witness my state’s most valued treasure, I began the short walk down to the Juno Beach Pier, cautiously breathing every step of the way.
Typically an overly-bustling access point for residents and tourists alike, a completely barren boardwalk was waiting, offering nothing but to serve as a landmark amidst a floating bacteria ground.
Being born and raised in Naples, Florida, I am not a stranger to Red Tide; I’ve observed the piles of dead fish, been refused beach access, and have experienced the itchy eyes that come in tote with the bacteria bloom every year. Since my younger years, I have migrated to the busier side of the state, and have enjoyed the Atlantic Ocean until recent months. Little did I know something far more large and dangerous was looming on the coast than an abundance of seaweed.
Now, beaches in Palm Beach county are being swiped clean by volunteers to remove dead fish carcasses and red tape is being tied to access points, preventing beach-goers access to their own backyard. Yet, there are still so many people who cannot, perhaps even will not, conceptualize the severity of the issue we are experiencing with our ocean and waterways.
As a native, it is a no-brainer to acknowledge that our economy thrives on tourism.
In the previous year alone, tourism generated an astonishing $100 billion in revenue, while offering employment to over 1,000,000 individuals.
Let’s think about that on a broader scale for a moment; if our number one attraction, besides Disney, is continuously closed off to us, seasonal residents and visitors, what is left to drive movement and economic growth south?
Beyond crippling sales for restaurants and theme-parks, as one can imagine, an enormous ripple effect could occur, withholding the potential to hinder the strength of other seemingly non-related markets, including the next big ticket sector: real estate.
According to Oxford Economics, Florida’s tourism relies on 12 other sectors, including: lodging, recreation, retail, real estate, air passenger transport, food & beverage, car rental, taxi services, and travel agents.
While the inability to utilize our state’s beautiful beaches due to toxic pathogens and bacteria may seem like a tough pill to swallow, in actuality, it is just the tip of the iceberg to something that could ultimately diminish our entire livelihood if not tended to in the fashion that it deserves.