Human responses to Florida red tides: Policy awareness and adherence to local fertilizer ordinances

Barbara Kirkpatrick, Kate Kohler, Margaret Byrne, Lora E. Fleming, Karen Scheller, Andrew Reich, Gary Hitchcock, Gary Kirkpatrick, Steven Ullmann, Porter Hoagland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


To mitigate the damages of natural hazards, policy responses can be beneficial only if they are effective. Using a self-administered survey approach, this paper focuses on the adherence to local fertilizer ordinances (i.e., county or municipal rules regulating the application of fertilizer to private lawns or facilities such as golf courses) implemented in jurisdictions along the Southwest Florida coast in response to hazardous blooms of Florida red tides (Karenia brevis). These ordinances play a role in the context of evolving programs of water pollution control at federal, state, water basin, and local levels. With respect to policy effectiveness, while the strength of physical linkages is of critical importance, the extent to which humans affected are aware of and adhere to the relevant rules, is equally critical. We sought to understand the public's depth of understanding about the rationales for local fertilizer ordinances. Respondents in Sarasota, Florida, were asked about their fertilizer practices in an area that has experienced several major blooms of Florida red tides over the past two decades. A highly educated, older population of 305 residents and "snowbirds" reported relatively little knowledge about a local fertilizer ordinance, its purpose, or whether it would change the frequency, size, or duration of red tides. This finding held true even among subpopulations that were expected to have more interest in or to be more knowledgeable about harmful algal blooms. In the face of uncertain science and environmental outcomes, and with individual motivations at odds with evolving public policies, the effectiveness of local community efforts to decrease the impacts of red tides may be compromised. Targeted social-science research on human perceptions about the risks of Florida red tides and education about the rationales for potential policy responses are warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)898-909
Number of pages12
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Sep 15 2014


  • Fertilizer ordinance
  • Florida red tide
  • Harmful algal bloom (HAB)
  • Karenia brevis
  • Total maximum daily load (TMDL)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution


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