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OPINION: Let Tampa’s River O’Green Fest continue

Despite recent controversy, the City of Tampa does not need to stop the annual tradition of dyeing the river green. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/FLICKR

The Tampa Downtown Partnership hosted the River O’Green Fest on March 1. The main event is dyeing the Hillsborough River bright green in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. 

Despite recent controversy, this fun, family-friendly tradition should continue. 

Fishing guide Dustin Pack began a petition on March 15 to stop them from dyeing the river green due to potential effects on the wildlife. It currently has over 4,000 signatures, but experts say that the dye is completely safe. 

Pack said he has observed differences in how the wildlife in the area interact with each other and find food for days after the river is dyed.

While the dye may affect the water’s visibility, it isn’t enough to cause any major damage to wildlife populations, USF biologist and ecologist Steve Murkowski said in a March 15 interview with the Tampa Bay Times. 

“You may lose a little phytoplankton production, but probably not a lot,” he said. “Fish may skip a meal, but they skip meals all the time. Eventually it’ll all move out into Tampa Bay, where it dilutes further.”

Sam Elrabi, director of the water department for the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County, told the Tampa Bay Times that the commission has no issue with the dye. He said it dissipates in a few hours and they have not noted any environmental issues. 

The dye is also completely safe for the environment as it is used in food, according to the event’s website. 

“It’s safe for the environment, non-toxic, biodegradable, meets all EPA standards and is certified for use by the National Sanitation Foundation Standard 60,” according to the City of Tampa’s Twitter account in a 2022 tweet. 

This same dye is also used by the military during search and rescue missions to mark the locations of pilots who are lost at sea, said Liz Hall, a spokesperson for the Tampa Water Department, in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. 

Pack said that the Hillsborough River has been through a lot lately, particularly in January when hundreds of thousands of gallons of sewage spilled into the river, according to a March 2 article from the Tampa Bay Times. 

While this is a serious problem, it isn’t the same as dyeing the river green. 

This tradition is not as harmful as it’s made out to be and there is no reason why it can’t continue.