Comparative Analysis of Public Policies to Address Harmful Algal Blooms

Christopher Cuevas

Authors:  Christopher Cuevas, David Kaplan

Faculty Mentor:  David Kaplan

College:  Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering


Harmful algal blooms (HABs) found in both fresh- and saltwater ecosystems throughout the United States pose unique challenges for environmental policy and water resource management. Excess anthropogenic phosphorus and nitrogen flows from agriculture and septic systems are responsible for the modern proliferation of HABs in all 50 states, with substantial ecological and environmental consequences. Florida, a state with 18.5% water area, over 8000 miles of coastline, and a population growth rate exceeding 250,000 people per year, is particularly vulnerable to HABs. The state’s nature-based tourism economy is contrasted against other major economic sectors that have substantial negative environmental impacts, including phosphate mining and agriculture. Despite substantial negative economic impact and media attention from recent HAB events, Florida’s state government has only recently begun to make HAB mitigation a major policy priority. By analyzing a series of cases of other regions facing HABs, including the Chesapeake Bay, Lake Erie, Lake Champlain, and the Gulf of Maine, this study seeks to highlight the effectiveness of state and regional environmental policy efforts to mitigate HABs. This analysis can be used to suggest potential policy options for addressing HAB mitigation in Florida.

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9 Responses
  1. Christopher Cuevas

    Hello Symposium attendees! Thank you for taking the time to view my poster. If you’d rather read my pitch than watch it, the script is in the description of the video.

    Additionally, you are welcome to ask me questions on Zoom between 2-3 PM at the following link:

  2. Karen Sem

    I liked your presentation! It was very straightforward.
    In your poster you mention that regulation of coastal HABs is very hard to achieve. Do you think regulation of freshwater HABs will be enough to alleviate economic and environmental impacts felt by Floridians, or will coastal HABs be needed sometime in the future?

    1. Christopher Cuevas

      Thank you Karen!

      This is a tough question to answer because most people in Florida live close to both coastal and freshwater bodies, and there are connections between the two kinds of events (dead algae from cynoHAB-affected river can feed K. brevis blooms, prolonging them). One major difference between coastal and freshwater HABs in Florida is that coastal HABs of K. brevis occur naturally – they were first documented by Cabeza de Vaca and other conquistadors in the 1500s – while freshwater cyanoHABs are entirely a manmade problem. Mitigating freshwater HABs is not only an easier task to undertake, but it may potentially reduce the severity of coastal HABs in Florida as well.

      However, if I had to make an educated guess, I would say that coastal HABs likely have the greater economic impact due to the substantial association between tourism and beaches in Florida. Therefore, I would say that in the long-term, coastal HABs mitigation will need to be prioritized for the sake of protecting the state’s economy, even if it is a more challenging issue to address.

  3. Jennifer Sonaly Vale

    Hi Chris, great job on your poster, looks very good.

    My question is:

    Even though Florida posses more challenges in mitigating harmful algae blooms, what would you say are some things that could be done in order to mitigate some of the problems, especially with the harms being done in the Gulf? Like do you have any creative solutions that you think could be beneficial?

    Congrats on getting this far! And I hope you are successful in the rest of your academic and career goals.

    1. Christopher Cuevas

      Thank you, Jennifer!

      When it comes to things that Florida can do on its own, the main solutions are as follows: prevent septic tanks from polluting groundwater supplies, mandate that the agriculture industry uses best management to prevent runoff of fertilizers into surface water bodies, and reduce the concentration of impervious surfaces (i.e. asphalt roads and concrete pavements) throughout the state. While all of these solutions are politically difficult to implement, the last one is probably most challenging because of the political prioritization of development throughout Florida since the 1950s.

      The reason that the issues facing the Gulf of Mexico are so difficult to manage is because resolving them requires asking for up to 31 states, most of whom have no economic or political connection to the Gulf, to coordinate a response like the one I just described above! I think the only way it could ever happen is if the federal government (Congress and the EPA) made it a national priority to address the Gulf’s issues and compelled the states to collaborate on a solution, similar to what has been done in Chesapeake Bay over the past decade.

  4. Jennifer Bridge

    Nice poster! What does work to get states and agencies to work together? For example, how has the Chesapeake Bay Program been successful in getting agencies to collaborate?

    1. Christopher Cuevas

      Thank you for viewing my poster, Dr. Bridge!

      The Chesapeake Bay Program created a partnership for sharing of monitoring and modeling resources between all of the states, nonprofit organizations, federal agencies, and academic institutions involved in the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. Additionally, collaboration between all of these institutions allowed goals to be set that could planned and implemented across all of the political jurisdictions in the Bay watershed. From the 1980s until 2010, the Program managed to keep phosphorus and nitrogen levels in the Bay nearly constant despite a rapidly growing regional population.

      A Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) was implemented for the entire Bay in 2010 at the request of President Obama, which differed from previous plans in that it included a form of punishment (the implementation of “backstop measures”, where the EPA could assume control over a state’s efforts to address nutrient pollution) if a state did not meet its stated nutrient reduction goals. This accountability, combined with the collaborative infrastructure already in place through the Chesapeake Bay Program, has resulted in a substantial drop in nutrient concentration in the Bay over the past decade.

      In summary, getting states and agencies to work together requires political will to solve the problem, investment in monitoring and modeling in order to understand the nature of the problem and potential solutions, collaboration between state and local governments (and federal if the problem crosses state lines) to develop and implement solutions based on scientific research and political will, and a strong incentive (e.g. mandates and regulations) for both state governments and pollution sources to act promptly to address the problem.