Protecting and preserving Florida’s shores from sea-level rise and algal blooms among other threats is critical to the state’s economic future, and the University of Central Florida can serve as the mechanism to turn that desire into reality.

“Our ultimate goal is to integrate science with societal needs and thereby guide more effective economic development and planning, environmental stewardship, hazard-mitigation planning and public policy development,” Worthy said.

That was the message at the launch of UCF’s National Center for Integrated Coastal Research held at the main campus on Friday.

The event drew more than 120 people from around the state including residents from along the west coast of Florida where they have been facing devastating algal blooms the past few weeks, elected officials, industry representatives and scientists from government agencies, such as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The center, which was formally approved earlier this year, held the event to help raise awareness about the center and promote dialog with all of the stakeholder groups.

“People want to work together to solve problems,” said Graham Worthy, chair of UCF’s Department of Biology and director of the center, which is also known as UCF Coastal. “They just need a mechanism, and we want them to know what UCF Coastal has to offer.”

“Our ultimate goal is to integrate science with societal needs and thereby guide more effective economic development and planning, environmental stewardship, hazard-mitigation planning and public policy development,” Worthy said. “In the end, we aim to ensure the economic and ecological health of coastal communities.”

Remarks were heard from a panel of experts and coastal residents that included Whitney Gray of the DEP; Chris Lombardo, city attorney for Everglades City; Salvador Moreno, an assistant professor in UCF’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences; Alexander Rudloff of TEDxOrlando; James Bacchus of UCF’s Center for Global Economic and Environmental Opportunity; James Murley, chief resiliency officer of Miami-Dade County; Duane De Freese, executive director of the Indian River Lagoon Council and Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program; Alan Fyall, a professor in UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management; and Claire Knox, an associate professor in UCF’s College of Community Innovation and Education and program director for the master of emergency and crisis management in UCF’s School of Public Administration.

Nan Summers, a grants coordinator for Manatee Park and Natural Resources, asked how county staff should address resident questions and communicate the science of what’s happening. That county is being particularly hard hit by red tide that kills marine animals and is also dangerous to humans,

Gray of the DEP suggested using local experts and longtime residents to help address questions, while Rudloff of TEDxOrlando said social media is a powerful tool to communicate messages, despite negative comments that often appear. Many people are still receiving the message regardless of the negative comments, Rudloff said.

The symposium also included remarks from U.S. Reps. Darren Soto and Bill Posey, as well as from Sen. Bill Nelson via letter, as the senator was not able to attend.

Soto also spoke about the importance of coastal health to the state.

“This is our identity as Floridians,” Soto said. “We are conservationists in our hearts. That’s why we chose to live here. We just need to continue to be aggressive and act like it. And we need to push the science that needs to get us to these solutions.”

Posey echoed these remarks and stressed that failure is not an option.

“We must not fail to preserve the sustainability and resilience of our coastal resources, environments and economies,” Posey said. “Our livelihoods depend on that. It’s our profound responsibility that we must pursue through the lens of the future.”

Fyall, in particular, spoke about the impact of poor coastal health on Florida’s No. 1 industry – tourism.

He said Florida in every tourism number, such as visitors, receipts and tax dollars, is hugely positive. However, he said the message going out right now on social media about Florida’s coast is not so positive.

“The degree that we assume that tourists will continue to come back to Florida is a dangerous assumption to make,” Fyall said.  “Remember…tourists, they are the economic lifeblood of this state, they have choices.”

UCF Coastal brings together an interdisciplinary team of experts from across UCF to help make Florida’s coastal communities resilient and sustainable. The team includes experts from a range of disciplines, including anthropology, biology, biomedicine, chemistry, engineering, economics, physics, political science, business, communication, sociology and tourism. Click here for more information about the center.