The effects of long, intense blooms of Florida red tide and other algae are so significant and wide-ranging that they are difficult to summarize.
But we know that the impacts fall into three general categories: environmental, economic and human health.
The impacts on marine life and the economy are, in the short term, easy to see.
During the recent 15-month outbreak off the shores of Florida, countless fish and many marine mammals were killed – washing up on beaches and into inlets and canals. Certain waters were spared, but the kills were massive and led to widespread bans on harvesting key species of fish.
The economic impacts were apparent, as hotels and short-term rentals experienced sharp declines in occupancy rates – costing hoteliers and unit owners millions of dollars in cancellations, no-shows and a lack of bookings. Many businesses — from fishing charters to restaurants to retail stores – that depend on tourists and seasonal visitors saw revenues drop precipitously.
Humans exposed to red tide were not immune from its effects: Not only on beaches but in near-shore areas, people were coughing and rubbing their irritated eyes.
Although some studies have sought to examine whether water-based algae and airborne aerosols adversely affect human health, the research has been inadequate.
An April 22 guest column published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune by Howard Simon, former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, cited research suggesting links between blue-green algae, in particular, and certain forms of liver cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.
Simon noted the fears that health risks might include the ingestion of seafood exposed to high levels of algae-based toxins. Public-health officials already take steps to limit the harvesting and sale or consumption of inshore seafood during outbreaks of red tide and other algae. Undetermined is whether those limitations are sufficient.
Efforts to bolster research were advanced incrementally Thursday when the U.S. House voted 401-23 to approve a budget amendment, proposed by Rep. Vern Buchanan, to study the impact of red tide on human health.
The amendment by Buchanan instructs an Environmental Health Sciences arm of the National Institutes of Health to designate $6.25 million to study the long-term effects on human health of red tide and other harmful algal blooms. According to Buchanan’s office, final passage of the funding package is expected next week.
This is an important development that complements Buchanan’s efforts to allocate funding for basic red tide research. It is vital to understand the impacts of algal blooms, not only to protect human health but to prioritize research projects.
We commend Buchanan and hope the entire Congress supports this measure – and whatever else is necessary to conduct conclusive studies focused on human health.
This editorial was originally published by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, a sister newspaper within GateHouse Media.