Buchanan calls for increased federal funding to combat harmful algae

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) recently called for greater federal funding to help combat harmful blooms of algae, a growing national concern due to their release of harmful toxins that hurt humans, marine life and the economy.

Toxins found in Karenia brevis algae, also known as red tide, can kill birds, fish, sea turtles and maritime mammals like dolphins and the endangered Florida manatee. Furthermore, state health departments advise that people with severe or chronic respiratory conditions like asthma are especially vulnerable and should steer clear of red tide waters.

Algae blooms cause $82 million in economic losses to seafood, restaurant and tourism industries each year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports.

“We need to use every tool at our disposal to safeguard the public and protect marine life and fragile coastal ecosystems,” Buchanan wrote to the leaders of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies. “Not only do harmful algal blooms deter tourists and upset related industries, they can be dangerous to humans as well.”

There are currently no effective methods to fight some harmful algal blooms (HABs). Red tide has affected the Gulf of Mexico since the 1600s, leading to mass killing of aquatic life and closures of shellfish beds extending from Florida to Texas each year.

“Perhaps most concerning, however, are the negative consequences HABs and red tide specifically have on people,” Buchanan wrote. “… People can become ill with Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning (NSP) or even die as a result of consuming contaminated shellfish that has been exposed to HAB toxins. People who swim in red tide or inhale the toxins while near the water can also suffer from severe respiratory issues, skin irritation and rashes.”