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Consensus statement lists next steps for addressing harmful algal blooms in Florida

By Rhett Register

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Some of the nation’s top experts in harmful algal blooms (HABs) have released a consensus document detailing research needs to most effectively combat future blooms in Florida.

The document, recently published on the Florida Sea Grant website and titled “State of the Science for Harmful Algal Blooms in Florida: Karenia brevis and Microcystis spp.,” describes the current state of knowledge, identifies data gaps and prioritizes research needs associated with the two most common HABs in the state, red tide and blue-green algae.

The document is a product of a recent meeting of more than 75 HABs researchers and focuses on five topics related to HABs:

  1. How blooms begin, develop and end
  2. Bloom prediction and modeling
  3. How blooms are detected and monitored
  4. How blooms might be controlled and their impacts reduced
  5. How blooms affect public health.

For each of these, researchers determined what scientists know, what they think they know, and what they need to know. They then ranked research priorities for HABs in Florida. For example, in the “bloom prediction and modeling” section, scientists listed the need to create models that can identify pollution sources affecting HABs as the highest research priority in that topic area. For the “public health” section, the top priority is improving knowledge of both short- and long-term human and ecosystem health impacts.

“Ideally, this consensus document will serve as a guide for future research, to inform recommendations from the state task forces and, ultimately, decisions made by the state,” said Lisa Krimsky, a UF/IFAS Florida Sea Grant Extension agent who helped organize the event.

In January 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Executive Order 19-12 to revive Florida’s Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force and create a Blue-Green Algae Task Force. Florida Sea Grant and UF/IFAS hosted a two-day symposium in August 2019 that focused on providing needed information about red tide and blue-green algae. The resulting document outlines some next steps for the task forces.

“If you have ever been in a room of scientists, you know how difficult it can be to come to consensus on any topic,” said Sherry Larkin, UF/IFAS Florida Sea Grant interim director and a member of the Florida Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force. “Through the hard work of these researchers and the Sea Grant agents that facilitated the meeting, we now have a path forward to addressing this issue.”

To access the document, visit flseagrant.org/publications.

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS website at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

The Florida Sea Grant program, hosted at UF/IFAS, is a university-based program that supports research, education and Extension to conserve coastal resources and enhance economic opportunities for the people of Florida. In addition to UF/IFAS, the program is a partnership between Florida universities, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and county governments.

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