| Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Before there was COVID-19, a Florida red tide outbreak crushed local tourism for more than a year. The toxic algae drove off tourists with its noxious smell, that unpleasant aroma only compounded by the tons of dead fish that washed up onto Southwest Florida beaches for more than 150 miles.
State marine businesses self-reported nearly $150 million in lost revenue, according to the Washington Post, but the impact of red tide lingered well beyond the episode, documented from October 2017 to February 2019.
Now, University of Florida researchers want to hear from marine businesses impacted by the toxic algae bloom, scientifically known as Karenia brevis, in a questionnaire open until Sept. 25.
The West Coast Inland Navigation District and the Southwest Florida Marine Industries Association have provided funding to researchers to provide quantifiable, detailed data of the overall impacts of this event across a wide variety of economic sectors.
“We will run the surveys statewide with an initial focus of our analyses in Southwest Florida and then a longer, more detailed look at statewide results,” said Christa Court, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of food and resource economics and Florida Sea Grant affiliate faculty member, who is working on the survey with Andrew Ropicki, another UF/IFAS assistant professor of food and resource economics and Florida Sea Grant marine economics specialist.
The survey, called the “Assessment of the Impacts of Florida’s 2018 Red Tide Event,” focuses on the state’s marine industries, Court said.
“Though our initial focus is on Southwest Florida, we recognize there could have been impacts to other regions of Florida, as recreational activity of both tourists and local residents moved to nonaffected areas,” she said. “Media coverage and the simultaneous occurrence of a blue-green algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee also could have influenced opinions on which parts of the state were impacted.”
Lisa Krimsky, a regional specialized water agent for UF/IFAS Extension and author, said red tide blooms happen almost every year, but the most recent one was unique in its breadth.
“The 2017-19 bloom was unprecedented in recent history in both duration and geographic impact,” Krimsky said. “The bloom was widely dispersed due to ocean currents and hurricane force winds, reaching the Panhandle and Florida’s southeast coast.”
Marine industries were impacted in many ways by the red tide event, Ropicki said.
In this survey, researchers are focusing on two marine industry sectors: for-hire charter operations, such as fishing charters, sightseeing cruises and eco-tours; and marine recreation operations that include marinas, boat sales and rentals, marine recreation equipment sales and rentals and fishing supplies.
Questions are designed to collect data and gain insights on the type and scale of impacts of the red tide episode. It should take only 10-15 minutes to complete.
“We were impacted when red tide was here, but we were impacted after it was gone,” Ropicki said. “Coverage, nationally, indicated red tide was everywhere, when actually, it would be in one spot and migrate up the coast.”
Ropicki said study will determine the scope of the “hangover effect.”
Results of the study should be completed by the end of the year.
A team of about seven researchers are working on the study.
The study will coincide with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science study, also estimated the economic losses of harmful algal blooms across 80 different economic sectors in Florida.