Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made the announcement on Monday at the South Florida Science Museum and Aquarium in West Palm Beach.
WEST PALM BEACH — A University of Florida ecologist and water resources expert will serve as the state's first chief science officer, a job that will consider environmental challenges including toxic algae, climate change and sea level rise.
Thomas Frazer, who has been the director of UF's School of Natural Resources and Environment since 2012, was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday during an event at the South Florida Science Museum and Aquarium in West Palm Beach.
DeSantis created the position of chief science officer in a sweeping executive order issued in January that also established a blue-green algae task force and an Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection. The position will be in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
The appointment is a change from former Gov. Rick Scott's administration, which was accused of prohibiting state employees from using the terms "climate change" and "global warming."
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“The secretary is clearly on the record as saying climate change is real and humans are responsible for it and my view is consistent with that,” Frazer said about Florida DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. “We have to look at the facts of what is going on in the environment and how can we bring science to bear on those changes happening now and in the future.”
It's unclear how many states have chief science officers, but Monday's appointment shows there is a need for lawmakers to have unbiased science counsel, said Joanne Carney, director of government relations at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
"The development of this new position in Florida does demonstrate the demand for scientific advice at all levels of government, especially for a state like Florida that is having to deal with the direct effects of a changing climate," Carney said. "Having the power of scientific evidence as you are crafting policy strengthens it."
While multiple state agencies, including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and South Florida Water Management District, have scientists, the statewide position will coordinate and analyze research from those groups as well as look at new environmental monitoring needs to better guide solutions.
Florida suffered last year from devastating bouts of toxic blue-green algae in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, killer red tide in the Gulf of Mexico and along the east coast, and massive sea grass die-offs in Florida Bay.
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Tons of marine life including dolphins, turtles and manatee died along the west coast from red tide, which is a bloom of the single-celled algae Karenia brevis. Although naturally-occurring, its longevity and potency can be exacerbated by runoff polluted with nutrients from yard and agricultural fertilizers, farm animals and leaking septic tanks.
DeSantis, who has asked for $2.5 billion over the next four years for Everglades restoration, was introduced Monday by South Florida Science Museum President Lew Crampton as "Florida's environmental governor." Crampton also is a councilmember for the Town of Palm Beach.
"The idea of climate change has become politicized. My environmental policy is to just do things that benefit Floridians," DeSantis said. "The idea that you are signing up for some kind of agenda, I'm not doing that. We are going to try and do what works."
Frazer's faculty bio says his studies have focused on the effects of nutrient dumps in water systems with an emphasis on spring-fed rivers and estuaries along Florida's Central Gulf Coast. Prior to being director of the School of Natural Resources and Environment, Frazer was the associate director of UF's School of Resources and Conservation.
The 54-year-old earned a bachelor's degree from Humboldt State University, a master's from UF and a doctorate in biological science from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Frazer will earn an annual salary of $148,000 in the position, which he starts in May.
"It's pretty clear water and water quality-related issues are on the top of the list," Frazer said about his priorities as chief science officer. "In the short term, blue-green algae is a big issue and a lot of my time will be focused on that."
This story originally published to palmbeachpost.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network.