Thanks for Stepping Up
By Gil McRae, FWRI Director
Remember the days when your workload was predictable, and you could plan and dictate when tasks were tackled and completed? Well, neither do I. One fact of life for us as public employees is that we are expected to be flexible and adaptable, and often we are the first (or only) responders associated with potentially damaging environmental events. In most cases we cannot plan or budget for the rare events like fish and wildlife disease or die-off events, and the occurrence of large scale environmental problems can be a real challenge relative to prioritizing staff time and resource allocation. Often additional workload is created when we return to postponed or rescheduled activities. Despite these challenges, FWC and FWRI staff have always risen to the occasion in response to unforeseen environmental events, and I never cease to be amazed at your resolve, commitment and creativity in dealing with these issues.
This year has been particularly challenging with the red tide that affected a large portion of the state. This red tide, which is still lingering today, has impacted tourism, killed millions of fish and hundreds of sea turtles, manatees and dolphins. The event also created tremendous demand on our staff for a very prolonged period. Our Harmful Algal Bloom Group lead the way continually adjusting to unpredictable and seemingly endless streams of water samples coming into our St. Pete headquarters for analysis. To date, over 14,000 water samples have been examined tied to this event. The HAB group also developed innovative approaches to monitoring and communicating results including aerial surveys with the assistance of FWC Law Enforcement and a near-real time interactive sample reporting tool developed with the invaluable assistance of our communications and GIS specialists. Our fish health team monitored the fish kill hotline and fielded a record number of calls, responded to countless inquiries and provided data and information in a timely manner. Our manatee folks, particularly those in the Southwest region, worked long hours under very demanding conditions to respond to an overwhelming number of manatee carcasses and the occasional rescue while assisting partners in responding to dolphin strandings. Our sea turtle team also distinguished themselves by responding to and documenting a record number of sea turtle mortalities associated with this event. Our fisheries team spun up specific monitoring programs to assess the effects of red tide on our fisheries, generating data that will be critically important in defining the short and long-term effects of the event. Through it all, our administrative support team managed logistics and budget that form the foundation of an effective response and your leadership team was there every time I needed support.
I have often said that FWRI staff are at their best when the challenges seem insurmountable. I can’t tell you the number of times that I have been contacted by representatives from other agencies praising our response capability, professionalism, and quality of the work you all do associated with unforeseen events. It is not lost on me that the time demands, and stress associated with this work and the lost time with family and friends takes a toll. I trust that you all take comfort in the fact that you have leadership that understands and supports you and is willing to do what it takes to make us collectively successful. Although I join each of you in keeping my fingers crossed that these events do not become routine, I take a great deal of comfort in knowing that whatever comes our way we have demonstrated the ability to rise to the challenge.