Algal bloom task force reorganizes to address health effects
This is what algal blooms can look like. These were found floating on the top of the St. John's River in 2010. Image via FWC.

The plan is to go into more detail at the task force’s November meeting.

A working group to address the health effects of harmful algal blooms is moving out of the Department of Health (DOH) and under the purview of the Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Task Force, an effort of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). The hope is that the task force’s reach will help group members reach better solutions.

“We’ve been working on this for a while,” said Rick Clark, a DOH environmental consultant, at the latest task force meeting. “We’ve been in communication with the task force about transferring the ‘Health HAB’ working group that we developed in-house at DOH to be a part of the task force, and to use the task force’s more extensive reach so more individuals can participate in this working group.” 

They started out with the original funding received from the Legislature to do health research as relating to long-term exposure to harmful algal blooms. Their first steps were to reach out to university partners to start up research projects. 

However, the thought was that as one opportunity ends and others appear, there needs to be a committee to guide the task force in establishing these projects, contracts and the like, beyond what DOH can do itself. As such, these activities will move under the task force’s umbrella.

“We’re super-excited about that, because it allows DOH to get a broader level of information to guide us, and also to other research opportunities that the task force itself might have to fund, as well,” Clark said.

The group comes to the task force with four members already attached — Wendy Stephan of the Florida Poison Information Center, University of Alabama at Birmingham environmental epidemiologist Matthew Gribble, and Lorrie Backer and Elizabeth Hamlin of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The group also will expand going forward.

The plan is to go into more detail on the reorganization at the task force’s November meeting.

“Just to be clear, the work group, while it will be somewhat encompassed as a resource for the task force and DOH, it will be chaired by the Department of Health — Rick will be the chair, I believe,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute Deputy Director Leanne Flewelling, emphasizing the group’s connections to DOH will remain.

Those connections will be advantageous when it comes to coordinating who can do what with what funding, she explained.

Wes Wolfe

Wes Wolfe is a reporter who's worked for newspapers across the South, winning press association awards for his work in Georgia and the Carolinas. He lives in Jacksonville and previously covered state politics, environmental issues and courts for the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. You can reach Wes at [email protected] and @WesWolfeFP. Facebook:


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