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The true costs of harmful algae blooms (HABs) and the mechanics that determine their devastating socio-economic impacts are for the most part unknown.  Florida’s 2017-2018 K. brevis bloom is a historical case study of the ever-growing threats to coastal welfare, but could also be an early indicator of possible adaptation strategies.

The project relies on a rich economic dataset (Florida Department of Revenue Gross Sales Data) in conjunction with indicators of K. brevis occurrence and intensity derived from multiple sources (e.g., water sampling data, news and social media posts) to examine the relationship between changes in economic activity for specific sectors and the occurrence and intensity of K. brevis blooms.  We will couple a known and tested panel data econometric approach with a qualitative comparative analysis of discursive communities across multiple business sectors and geographies.  The interdisciplinary approach is designed to identify the specific communication and experience contexts that drive human behavior and intensify the economic impacts of natural hazards such as HABs.  The analysis will focus on a diverse group of economic sectors belonging to the sun, sand and sea tourism system (e.g., hotels, restaurants, boat rentals, fishing guides), and commercial fisheries, but will also include an exploratory analysis to identify other economic sectors that have been impacted by HABs but that have received less attention (e.g., health care and veterinary services, retail, construction).  Within these sectors, the analysis will identify how multiple stakeholder communities publicly communicate the direct impacts of HABs, and whether (and how) different types of discourse amplify these impacts.

The central objective of the project is the identification of direct, indirect, and induced socio-economic impacts caused by the 2017-2018 K. brevis bloom in Florida.  However, the dataset that will be compiled will allow identification of direct economic impacts (losses in revenues) from K. brevis blooms in Florida occurring between 1995 to the present at the county level.  The county-level modeling results of direct economic impact will be used to estimate state-level economic impacts of the 2017-2018 K. brevis blooms (including indirect and induced impacts) through input-output modeling with IMPLAN.  These results will be analyzed in conjunction with the changing communication patterns of different sectors over time, ultimately identifying pathways for education and awareness of K. brevis HAB events that ameliorate and do not magnify economic losses.  In short, by coupling economic and anthropological methods, this approach will generate a transferable, predictive and actionable pathway designed to better understand and eventually break the cycle of Bloom to Bust.

Funded by: Gulf of Mexico Ocean Observing System and The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


Sergio Alvarez, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Tourism, Events and Attractions
[email protected]