Florida will intensify its effort to research, alert and educate the public about the toxic red tide algae.
After the 16-month intense toxic bloom that gripped Southwest Florida and soon after Gov. Ron DeSantis took office, a state task force undertook determining what can be done to address red tide.
“This is just a first step,” said Leanne Flewelling, chairwoman of the state’s Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) task force.”We are only just beginning.”
The task force released four initial recommendations Thursday outlining what directions need to be taken:
• Improve public knowledge of the health impacts of red tide on humans.
• Improve communication and education about red tide.
• Better management and development a comprehensive and integrated response plan to red tide blooms.
• Enhancing research and innovation that will yield beneficial management tools.
The task force recommends the Florida Department of Health undertake “specific” research to better understand the short- and long-term health impacts of the brevetoxins produced by the red tide algae. The toxins have long been known to cause coughing and other respiratory ailments in humans when the cell concentrations exceed 100,000 cells per liter of water.
Little research, Flewelling said, has dove into the short- and long-term effects of red tide on humans.
Also, more “aggressive” training be established for public health staff so that they can better diagnose and report illnesses caused by harmful algae blooms.
The state should “invest” in long-term strategies of coordinated communication and better education.
The recommendation calls for state agencies — Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and Health Department — to create a working group of scientists, other state partners and stakeholders.
Among its duties, the working group would address better distribution of information to the public, more informative communication of threats from a red tide bloom and a long-term educational campaign for all ages and demographics.
The FWC has updated its public information by posting an interactive map on myfwc.com. The map identifies the red tide counts in water samples taken in the last eight days throughout the state.
MANAGEMENT AND RESPONSE
The task force recommends a comprehensive and coordinated immediate event response plan to address red tide blooms.
“FDEP should provide clear guidance for developing, testing, and applying technologies for the mitigation or control of algae blooms,” the task force stated.
The recommendation calls for a “tiered” response for monitoring and determining triggers for response efforts. The task force would want to see best practice strategies be developed for local communities that will define local roles and responsibilities in the wake of an event.
The state should work closer with the federal Integrated Ocean Observing System and state agencies, Mote Marine Laboratory and others.
Thanks to a $1 million grant from the Andrew and Judith Economos Charitable Foundation two years ago, Mote established its Red Tide Research Institute.
“Influences on the dynamics of blooms need to be clarified,” the task force concluded. “And viable ways to mitigate and control blooms need to be tested and validated.”
A short list of Mote’s research includes:
• Weekly analysis of water samples for Sarasota Healthy Beaches Program.
• With the FWC, an ongoing, bi-monthly coastal surveys and bi-monthly continenta shelf surveys for red tide.
• Daily public beach conditions reported at visitbeaches.org
• An NOAA-ECOHAB grant to look at factors that expand and terminate blooms of Karenia brevis.