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Red Tide Bloom Researchers To Study Economic Impact

Dead fish on Indian Rocks Beach from red tide
Scientist Barbara Kirkpatrick said monitoring and surveying of red tide is hampered right now due to coronavirus restrictions, although we are in typical low season. She said the critical time for observations will be around August.

Two new studies are being funded to detail the impacts red tide algae blooms have on Florida’s economy. The research will look into tourism, the seafood industry, health care and construction.

Over the next two years, scientists will look back on the red tide algae bloom of 2017 that persisted into 2019. It poisoned marine life, caused respiratory issues for people and emptied beaches.

Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System partnered with NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science to award the researchers $556,000.

“When we, as red tide scientists, go to either Capitol Hill or to Tallahassee to say that we need more funding for projects, one of the things they ask is ‘what are the economic impacts?'” said red tide expert Barbara Kirkpatrick, with GCOOS.

She said having a better understanding of red tide's cost will help secure more funding for research from the state and federal government in the future.

One of the studies will be conducted by Dr. Heather O’Leary from the University of South Florida, partnering with the University of Central Florida. The other project is headed by the University of Florida with the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi.

The scientists want to know just how much financial damage the 2017-19 extended bloom caused the state — and not just in tourism dollars, but also in health care.

“We know that the aerosols do have a direct impact to people, especially people who have asthma,” said Kirkpatrick. “And we know that hospital admissions for emergency room visits go up during a red tide.”

Kirkpatrick is also on Florida’s Red Tide Task Force, which sent a list of recommendations to the state legislature before it wrapped up in March.

She said Gov. Ron DeSantis has some red tide budget items on his desk right now, although she’d rather not discuss them until the governor officially signs them.

“We hope he stays firm with his interest in improving Florida waters,” she said. “That’s sort of the long game, but we have this very awful short game called COVID-19 that we're dealing with right now. So, until we see that final budget, we don't know what we're working with.”

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