The Alliance Water Resources Team focuses its efforts on a wide range of water resource concerns affecting the region. Through Gulf Star support, the Alliance is making strides addressing the issue of harmful algal blooms (HABs). The Team is working with partners on observation glider deployments, handheld generic sensors, and a study on the economic impacts. And, in January, the Water Resources Team is joining the Education and Engagement Team for a one-day discussion on the science and communication of harmful algal blooms. Much of this work is supported by Gulf Star partner Freeport McMoRan.
In 2016, the Alliance Water Resources Team initiated two Gulf Star projects to support the detection and identification of HAB species. In the first project, the Team deployed additional HABs observation gliders to identify, evaluate, and predict the initiation of blooms in northwest Florida coastal waters. The additional gliders were deployed and retrieved from existing research vessel missions in the area, keeping the operational costs low. Five glider trips expanded deployments from 10-14 days to 24 days and allowed operations to greater water depths. The long-term goal of glider deployments is to continue sampling so that bloom forecasting is improved beyond a few days. This information is critical for improving the seasonal HAB forecast, which can devastate commercial and recreational fishing opportunities. Katherine Hubbard, FWC project lead, stated that this effort has “helped tremendously in terms of building capacity for the region.” Project partners included Florida FWC-FWRI, USF, NOAA, and GCOOS.
Handheld Genetic HAB Sensor Network Expansion
During this same timeframe, the Water Resources Team supported the expansion of a handheld generic HAB sensor network. The application of these sensors is important because it allows 1) more timely confirmation of less toxic or nontoxic species so managers can make response decisions, and 2) a rapid, sensitive method for quantifying toxic species which are notoriously difficult to identify. While primarily focused on Florida, the Gulf Star funding provided by Freeport McMoRan allowed the project to expand to include samples from Alabama and Mississippi. The Alliance partners for this project included Florida FWC-FWRI, USF, NOAA, and GCOOS.
HABs and Coastal Economic Health
The Water Resources Team also has a broad focus on economic health in the Gulf of Mexico. Recognizing the need to provide relevant, up-to-date information in 2019, the Team initiated the HAB economic project. The work addresses the impact of HABs by quantifying the linkages between economic outcomes and coastal health. This project involves collecting and synthesizing information on the economic effects of HABs and their impact on industry sectors such as tourism, commercial and recreational fisheries, and aquaculture. The results will be used with GIS data to enhance the understanding of HAB impacts. The result will be a dashboard tool that provides resource managers with easy access to high-quality HAB data and economic outcomes. The Team plans to host a workshop and webinars to share the dashboard and project results.
2020 HABs Workshop
In 2018, the State of Florida suffered significant, long-standing Gulf coast HAB events. In 2019, officials closed coastal Mississippi for weeks due to an outbreak of Karenia brevis. News reports, Facebook pages, myths, misinformation, and a general lack of knowledge about HABs persist. To address this ongoing public concern, the Water Resources Team and Education and Engagement Team will hold a joint session at a Mid-Meeting on January 17, 2020, in Mobile, Alabama. The two Teams will begin a dialog to explore the science and communication of harmful algal blooms. Through high-level presentations and discussions, participants will cover the science, monitoring, education, communication, and management of HABs events. The goal is to identify an action to address problems identified during the meeting.