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GCOOS, NCCOS funding studies to examine costs of red tide

By Staff | May 6, 2020

MOTE MARINE LABORATORY Image, taken by Mote Marine Laboratory’s Manatee Research Program as it conducted aerial surveys for manatee conservation studies, clearly showing red tide off Florida’s Southwest coastline.

Across the United States, the seafood, restaurant and tourism industries are estimated to suffer millions of dollars in economic losses from harmful algal blooms – losses played out in communities from California to New England, and Ohio to Florida. But the true economic losses caused by toxic algae blooms are unknown.

The Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS) and NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) are funding 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.

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.

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,” GCOOS Executive Director Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick said. “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.”

MOTE MARINE LABORATORY A house and dock area shows hundreds of dead fish pushing up to the seawall.

The studies 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.


The project “From Bloom to Bust: Estimating Economic Losses and Impacts of Florida Red Tide (Karenia brevis)” will be conducted by Drs. Sergio Alvarez, from the University of Central Florida, and Dr. Heather O’Leary, from the University of South Florida. The funding amount is $277,122.

The two-year project will examine the economic impacts of K. brevis events across 80 different sectors, based on varied bloom occurrence and intensity. Understanding the true costs of HABs is key to developing effective response and adaptation strategies that meet the needs of impacted communities in Florida and around the country.

“We know that harmful algal blooms drive people away from the waterfront,” Alvarez said. “With this project, we will identify how Florida red tide has been impacting the state’s economy in terms of reduced sales from different economic sectors. But we are also testing the idea that information from social media could be more of a driver in these impacts than so-called objective measures, like water sampling data.”

MOTE MARINE LABORATORY Red tide dotted with the carcasses of dead fish, indicating the widespread ecological damage the extended bloom caused.

“When everyday people make the small-scale and large-scale decisions that ultimately impact Florida’s economy, they’re not necessarily checking biophysical monitoring or formal economic metrics. They’re more likely making those decisions by checking with friends and colleagues on social media,” O’Leary added. “By keeping one eye on social media and the other on economic metrics, we’re able to get a better sense of how these interact to make HABs worse, or to lessen their impact.”


The project “Assessment of the short- and long-term socioeconomic impacts of Florida’s 2017-2019 Red Tide event” will be conducted by Drs. 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 Texas A&M University Corpus Christi’s Harte Research Institute. The funding amount is $279,796.

The 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.

“Informed decision-making associated with HAB mitigation and coastal resource management requires the comprehensive assessment of short- and long-term socioeconomic impacts,” Court, lead researcher and an economist with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said. “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.”