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Crist talks environment during Eckerd College visit

Bill DeYoung



Rep. Charlie Crist with Eckerd College faculty, staff and students Monday afternoon (photos by Bill DeYoung)

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist said Monday that “lack of investment” by Florida’s government is clearly a contributing factor to the state’s current environmental crisis. The blue/green algae clogging South Florida rivers and estuaries – from nutrients dumped into Lake Okeechobee by Big Sugar – is feeding the toxic red tide bloom in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s an environmental catch-22.

According to Politico, the state spent $2.5 million annually on red tide research during Crist’s two terms as governor (2007-2011), while just $801,241 per year for the same line item has been allocated per year under Governor Rick Scott. The governor’s office has disputed the exact figures.

“Research is so important in the scientific arena, and it needs to be supported,” Crist said, while also acknowledging the role of climate change in the crisis.

“We’ve got a big primary election in Florida tomorrow, and elections have consequences. So I hope that everyone, all Floridians, will get out and vote tomorrow – if they haven’t already voted early – and vote again in November.”

Scott defeated Crist in the 2014 gubernatorial race by a margin of one percent.

Crist, the Democrat representing Florida’s 13th congressional district, made the remarks during an afternoon visit to the main campus of Eckerd College, where he congratulated president Donald Eastman and members of the scientific faculty on an innovative, campus-wide environmental project.

The college’s sustainability program – educating students about the dangers of single-use plastics – received a $115,000 program grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Eckerd was one of the first campuses in the area to ban plastic straws. Every incoming first-year student receives a free metal straw and a reusable tumbler.

First-year Eckerd College student Annalise Sutter discusses environmental responsibility with U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist.

Marine Science instructors Shannon Gowans and Amy Siuda, along with a trio of students, talked with Crist about the products they’ve developed – including dishwasher-safe bamboo plates (they’re bio-degradable) and refillable water bottles. Plastic single-use ponchos are being replaced with lightweight umbrellas.

Both Gowans and Siuda teach courses in plastic’s destructive impact on the environment.

“This is the perfect time to target these students, because they are on their own for the first time,” said Gowans. “They’re making their own decisions. So they can avoid going down the easy path that a lot of us have gone down. As they’re going to Publix, they can always take their bag. They can always take their cup to Starbucks.

“There are a lot of plastics that are going to be a lot harder to reduce, but there are so many of them that are easy.

“There’s been a lot of talk about, why focus on straws? And anyway, a lot of the world’s plastic waste comes from Asia. And a lot comes from the fishing industry.

“Yes, those are important. But why would we ignore what we can do? This is a great target group.”





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