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UF researchers to investigate socioeconomic impacts of algal blooms

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida is among the awardees of a grant that aims to discover the aftermath, both socially and economically, of Florida’s prolonged red tide event of 2017-19.

The Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS) and NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) are providing over half a million dollars in funding to two new studies designed to uncover the full costs of harmful algal blooms (HABs) across numerous sectors — from tourism and seafood to industries where impacts are less visible, such as healthcare and construction.

Across the United States, the seafood, restaurant and tourism industries are estimated to suffer millions of dollars in economic losses from harmful algal blooms, but the true economic losses caused by these events are unknown.

As a state that relies heavily on these sectors, Florida is especially vulnerable to the socioeconomic damages of toxic blooms. This was apparent during the prolonged red tide that began in 2017 and lasted through early 2019, causing the state’s governor to declare a state of emergency.

“Informed decision-making associated with HAB mitigation and coastal resource management requires the comprehensive assessment of short- and long-term socioeconomic impacts,” said Christa Court, lead researcher and an economist with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “The outcomes of this project are not only important for the state of Florida but will inform ongoing discussions related to mitigation and prevention of HABs and their associated impacts amongst academics, federal, state and local policymakers, as well as industry stakeholders, recreational users and the general public.”

There are thousands of species of algae — phytoplankton — in fresh and marine waters. They are essential to life, forming the basis of the food web and providing an important source of oxygen. While most species are harmless to humans and animals, some, like the Karenia brevis that causes Florida’s red tide, are toxic. When these species multiply, they can wreak havoc on human and marine animal health, contaminate seafood and devastate local economies.

“We know that in Florida and across the U.S., HAB events are becoming more frequent, more toxic, longer-lasting and more widespread,” said Barbara Kirkpatrick, executive director of GCOOS. “While we can’t eliminate blooms, having a better understanding of their mechanics as well as their negative consequences can help resource managers lessen their impacts on communities. That’s why these new studies are so important.”

The UF-led study, in addition to a second study conducted by a team of University of Central Florida and University of South Florida researchers, will evaluate the sociological and economic impacts of Florida’s 2017-2019 red tide event and develop a framework to inform future assessments of other HAB events with the goal of mitigating economic impacts on communities.

Project Title: “Assessment of the short- and long-term socioeconomic impacts of Florida’s 2017-2019 Red Tide event” will be conducted by Christa Court, Xiang Bi, Jin Won Kim, Angie Lindsey, Stephen Morgan, Andrew Ropicki and Ricky Telg from the University of Florida and David Yoskowitz from the Harte Research Institute, Texas A&M University Corpus Christi. $279,796.

Project Summary: This two-year project will comprehensively quantify and qualify the short- and long-term socioeconomic impacts of the 2017-2019 Karenia brevis event in Florida and develop a transferable framework to help inform national-scale efforts focused on quantifying as well as measuring community vulnerability and resiliency.

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) 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 brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.
ifas.ufl.edu  @UF_IFAS

About GCOOS

The Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System Regional Association is a 501(c)3 organization responsible for developing a network of business leaders, marine scientists, resource managers, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholder groups that combine their data to provide timely information about our oceans — similar to the information gathered by the National Weather Service to develop weather forecasts. Our members and data providers come from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

It is the only NOAA-certified observing organization focused solely on the Gulf of Mexico.

GCOOS is the Gulf of Mexico regional component of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS). We are the heart of data collection for the ocean and coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico — collecting thousands of data points from sensors and ensuring the data are reliable, timely, accurate and available to all who need it.

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