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Green Death

Marine associations back first economic study of algae blooms
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Much has been written about the perceived negative impact of harmful algae blooms (HAB) on the boating industry. But haven’t been any specific studies undertaken--until now. The Southwest Florida Marine Industries Association and the Tampa Bay Marine Industries Association are taking the lead with a significant funding commitment for a study of the economic impacts of HAB along Florida's west coast.

Specifically, the two associations will contribute $25,000 and partner with the West Coast Inland Navigation District to study HAB effects on businesses. The year-long study will be conducted by the University of Florida, Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences.

“We all know that solving Florida's water-quality issues are complex challenges requiring a massive cooperative effort to fix for future generations,” says SWFMIA President Hans Wilson. “There are no doubts that local, mostly small businesses, have experienced a significant impact on their direct and indirect sales from the HAB. Virtually all of our members, from boat dealers to marinas to service suppliers, saw business plummet last summer.”

Putting “real-life numbers” on the impact of HAB will be an “authoritative and invaluable tool for our industry dealing with local and state governments moving forward,” added Wilson.

Wilson went on to emphasize that it’s the cooperation and support from both the WCIND and the University of Florida that’s making this study a reality. The study, which starts right away, will take a year to complete.

While SWFMIA is taking direct action in its membership area, the HAB problem isn’t just in Florida. Indeed, finding ways to address and reduce the growing HAB plague in so many of the nation’s waterways should become a top industry priority.

For example, all of Mississippi's 21 Gulf Coast beaches have been closed for swimming by the state’s Department of Environmental Quality as the expanding bloom of toxic blue-green goop blankets the state's waters. In Ohio, Lake Erie suffered a major bloom last summer and scientists are predicting another this summer due to the very rainy spring experienced there.

Speaking of rain, the massive flooding waters in the nation’s heartland are flowing down the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico carrying high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen from farmland that triggers HAB. Flowing 2,300 miles from Minnesota to the Gulf, this river provides drinking water, food and jobs for millions of people. Moreover, the farmland surrounding the river is said to be the most productive ever.

But the downside is the fertilizer and manure used on these farms contain nitrogen and phosphorus. Flushed into waterways feeding the river, they foster HABs that choke out marine life. The result, say scientists, will be a dead zone in the Gulf this year that’s expected to cover more than 7,800 square miles. It’s a story repeated elsewhere, too.

The blue-green algae are technically not an algae, but cyanobacteria that produces toxins. Exposure can cause stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. It can aggravate respiratory problems, cause skin rash, and if none of that occurs the slime still really stinks-- not exactly the setting that will help us sell boats!

The fact that related public health issues are getting some serious play these days is some good news. It’s leading to regulatory agencies, for example the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, considering ways to put clear numerical limits on allowable toxins. If such standards were established, they could be used to identify which waters are above that level and are, therefore, impaired. Supporters of this approach believe it would lead to specific steps to deal with issues that fuel the HAB and mandate specific steps to curb offending practices.

But let’s be clear . . . so far, whether in Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, California or most other states, the primary tools for reducing this pollution from nutrients (especially runoff of fertilizers and manure, bad sewer systems and septic tanks) involves just voluntary efforts aka “best management practices.” Obviously, voluntary isn’t getting it done and specific regulatory initiatives are overdue.

The SWFMIA study will specifically document the regional economic impacts of the 2017-2019 HABs in Southwestern Florida through survey methods and regional economic analysis as follows:

1. Identify the people, assets, and business activities at risk in the water-dependent communities affected by the 2017-2019 HABs in the counties of Monroe, Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota, Manatee, Hillsborough and Pinellas.

2. Estimate the economic losses to commercial businesses resulting from the 2017-2019 HABs.

3. Further measure the economic impact of HABs on real property values in affected areas.

4. Determine how these economic impact estimates can be used to identify efficient and cost-effective management strategies for mitigating their impact on local water-based communities.

Kudos to SWFMIA for setting an example by becoming directly engaged on behalf of its members in this critical issue.

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