Red tide is an unpleasant but regularly occurring phenomenon along coastlines, including Florida’s Gulf Coast. Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University Environmental Science Ph.D. Candidate Krystal Pree is working to find out the extent to which people who harvest fish and shellfish along the coast are aware of and exposed to toxins associated with “red tides.”
Ms. Pree’s work at FAMU is supported under a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Educational Partnership Program.
Florida red tides occur annually throughout the Gulf of Mexico due to blooms from the particular marine microorganism called Karenia brevis, but it is only one of various types of harmful algal blooms (HABs) that occur in Florida, Pree explains. At high concentrations, red tides can cause the water to become discolored with a red pigmentation, but depending on the type of algae present, the water can also be brown, green or even yellow. K. brevis is one of the most serious HABs in Florida because it produces toxins called brevetoxins that have a detrimental effect on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds.
People who are exposed may suffer from skin irritation, burning eyes and respiratory problems. Toxins produced by harmful algal blooms that create red tides do not lose their toxicity when fish or shellfish is cooked, so people who consume contaminated shellfish can experience Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning (NSP). Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, lack of motor coordination, and tingling of fingers or toes.
Ms. Pree’s research seeks to further understanding about how people engaged in recreational fishing and shellfish harvesting become aware of occasions when incidents of red tide take place. Using interviews and surveys, Ms. Pree is looking to discover more about how fishers’ knowledge, beliefs, experiences, purpose for fishing, and characteristics may play a role in their exposure when harmful algal blooms prompt closures of recreational shellfish harvesting areas.
Pree’s research investigates whether NSP is misdiagnosed and under-reported. Her findings could help devise ways to better inform residents and tourists in the future so that they can avoid being sickened. Pree is also researching whether certain population sub-groups may be more at risk to exposure than others. Her research is based in in southwest Florida’s Lee County.
Pree believes that if there are more surveys conducted to understand the interactions between humans and the environment, as well as background knowledge provided to residents, then the risks of exposure could be decreased. Her project fits within a broader desire to focus her talents upon creating healthier environments, especially for low-income and minority communities.
“Ultimately, I’m seeking to improve awareness about environmental contamination and natural resource issues, particularly those affecting low-income and minority communities” Pree explains.
Pree delivered a poster presentation about her work at the Association for Environmental Sciences and Studies (AESS) Conference at American University in Washington, D.C., June 8-11. Her future career goals include environmental consulting, compliance and monitoring as well as teaching and mentoring at the University level.