Florida red tide and human health: A pilot beach conditions reporting system to minimize human exposure

Barbara Kirkpatrick, Robert Currier, Kate Nierenberg, Andrew Reich, Lorraine C. Backer, Richard Stumpf, Lora Fleming, Gary Kirkpatrick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


With over 50% of the US population living in coastal counties, the ocean and coastal environments have substantial impacts on coastal communities. While many of the impacts are positive, such as tourism and recreation opportunities, there are also negative impacts, such as exposure to harmful algal blooms (HABs) and water borne pathogens. Recent advances in environmental monitoring and weather prediction may allow us to forecast these potential adverse effects and thus mitigate the negative impact from coastal environmental threats. One example of the need to mitigate adverse environmental impacts occurs on Florida's west coast, which experiences annual blooms, or periods of exuberant growth, of the toxic dinoflagellate, Karenia brevis. K. brevis produces a suite of potent neurotoxins called brevetoxins. Wind and wave action can break up the cells, releasing toxin that can then become part of the marine aerosol or sea spray. Brevetoxins in the aerosol cause respiratory irritation in people who inhale it. In addition, asthmatics who inhale the toxins report increase upper and lower airway symptoms and experience measurable changes in pulmonary function. Real-time reporting of the presence or absence of these toxic aerosols will allow asthmatics and local coastal residents to make informed decisions about their personal exposures, thus adding to their quality of life. A system to protect public health that combines information collected by an Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) has been designed and implemented in Sarasota and Manatee Counties, Florida. This system is based on real-time reports from lifeguards at the eight public beaches. The lifeguards provide periodic subjective reports of the amount of dead fish on the beach, apparent level of respiratory irritation among beach-goers, water color, wind direction, surf condition, and the beach warning flag they are flying. A key component in the design of the observing system was an easy reporting pathway for the lifeguards to minimize the amount of time away from their primary duties. Specifically, we provided a Personal Digital Assistant for each of the eight beaches. The portable unit allows the lifeguards to report from their guard tower. The data are transferred via wireless Internet to a website hosted on the Mote Marine Laboratory Sarasota Operations of the Coastal Ocean Observation Laboratories (SO COOL) server. The system has proven to be robust and well received by the public. The system has reported variability from beach to beach and has provided vital information to users to minimize their exposure to toxic marine aerosols.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 25 2008


  • Asthma
  • Beach conditions
  • Florida red tide
  • Harmful algal blooms
  • Karenia brevis
  • Ocean observing systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)


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