CNH: Collaborative Research: Modeling the Dynamics of Harmful Algal Blooms, Human Communities, and Policy Choices Along the Florida Gulf Coast

Around the world, harmful algal blooms (HABs) in the marine environment are an increasing threat to human health and coastal ecosystems. This research will examine the choices and effectiveness of policies for mitigating the economic and public health effects of blooms of the harmful alga, Karenia brevis, along Florida's Gulf of Mexico coast. The project team will develop a modeling framework comprising statistical models of the dynamics of nature and human demographics, environmental exposure-response models, cost-minimization models, and a policy-simulation model that connects these submodels. An Education Program will be implemented to evaluate education and outreach tools that have been designed to minimize exposure to risks. The research will focus on the following: (1) modeling the relationship between nutrient loadings and the frequency, spread, intensity, and duration of HABs in the eastern Gulf of Mexico; (2) clarifying the changing patterns of short- and long-term human population distributions along the Florida Gulf Coast; (3) specifying the connection between HABs as marine hazards (exposures) and human respiratory ailments (responses); (4) inputing the economic costs of illnesses associated with respiratory ailments; (5) demonstrating feasible ways of communicating risks to the public and implementing mitigation policies; (6) comparing the costs of implementing combinations of existing and prospective policies; and (7) characterizing the array of coupling phenomena (time lags, thresholds, feedback loops, surprises, etc.) that comprise the dynamic interactions between nature and humans in the HABs context. The project is expected to yield insights into a form of dynamic coupling between nature and humans that heretofore has not been studied in depth, one in which policy choices must be made about the relative usefulness of attempts to control either nature or human behavior, or both, in order to reduce harm.

This research project will enhance our understanding of how the dynamic interactions between natural and human systems influence and inform society's choice of public policies for mitigating the economic and public health effects of marine harmful algal blooms (HABs). The coupled natural-human system of HABs and increasing coastal populations on the Florida Gulf Coast appear to exhibit many of the classic characteristics of dynamic coupled systems, such as feedbacks, thresholds, surprises, and legacy effects. A better understanding of these characteristics can potentially lead to public policies that are better organized, more informed, less costly, and more effective. The knowledge gained will inform researchers studying other coupled natural-human systems, thereby opening up other lines of research into coastal and aquatic regions affected by natural hazards around the world.