Across the U.S., the seafood, restaurant and tourism industries suffer an estimated $82 million in annual economic losses from harmful algal blooms -- losses played out in communities from California to New England, from Ohio to Florida.
Florida is especially vulnerable. From red and brown tides on the
coasts to cyanobacteria in lakes, the state has more toxic harmful algal blooms (HABs) than any other in the nation. As the lead federal agency for coastal HABs, NOAA, along with other federal and state partners, has long-term investments in HAB research, detection, forecasting and response.
On Monday, June 11, 2018, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Bill Posey co-hosted a Congressional briefing on harmful algal blooms in Florida and the federal response undertaken by NOAA and its partners.
There are thousands of species of algae -- phytoplankton -- in fresh and marine waters. They are essential to life as we know it, forming the basis of the food web and providing an important source of the oxygen we need to breathe. While most species are harmless to humans and animals, some are toxic. When these species multiply -- creating harmful algal blooms (HABs) -- they can wreak havoc on human and marine animal health, contaminate seafood and devastate local economies.
Key details during the briefing included:
- The need for federal reauthorization of the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act (HABHRCA) to protect the public. This 1998 Act created a funding stream for new harmful algae research and monitoring programs that forecast bloom movements and help ensure a safe seafood supply.
- Information about new research that is moving HAB forecasting from a county-level forecast to a beach-level forecast.
- Information about improved tests for toxins in shellfish that will ultimately lessen the time that shellfish beds need to be closed and offer better protections for human health.
- The further need for funds to help Florida and its communities respond to blooms.
- The need to provide ongoing operating funds to keep HAB forecasts functional and available to the public -- the same way weather, hurricane and ripcurrent forecasts are provided.
Speakers during Monday's Capitol Hill briefing included:
- Dr. Steven Thur -- Director of NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, one of the lead NOAA agency for HAB research, forecasting and response. Dr. Thur discussed the national issues and how NCCOS is responding.
- Cecil Pendergrass -- Lee County, Florida, County Commissioner, who talked about the impacts that blue-green algae blooms on the Caloosahatchee River in Lee County and the Karenia brevis-fueled coastal red tides have on his county's residents, businesses and visitors.
- Dr. Katherine Hubbard -- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, who discussed the statewide impacts of HABs and how Florida responds each year to to them, including its extensive monitoring programs that ensure shellfish are safe for human consumption and the regular bloom forecast updates that FWC provides.
- Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick -- Executive Director of the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System, who discussed how HAB forecasting has made dramatic improvements over the last 20 years, but that the need remains to further refine HAB forecasting so that it covers more beaches in more locations. She also discussed the need for continued funding support to keep HAB forecasting systems operational in Florida.
- Dr. Richard Stumpf -- NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science Oceanographer, who discussed federal efforts to develop HAB forecasts, refine them and keep them operational so that human health and coastal economies can withstand bloom impacts.
- Ed Chiles -- Owner and CEO of the Southwest Florida-based The Chiles Group (a restaurant group), who discussed the real effects that HABs can have on coastal businesses and the needs that remain for continued funding support for HAB research and mitigation. He also highlighted the need for ongoing operational dollars to keep forecasts available to the public.
From left to right: Restaurateur Ed Chiles,
Owner and CEO of the Southwest Florida-based The Chiles Group; Dr. Richard Stumpf,
NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science Oceanographer; Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick, Executive Director of GCOOS; Dr. Katherine Hubbard, Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Cecil Pendergrass, Lee County, Florida, County Commissioner; Dr. Steven Thur,
Director of NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.