Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Marine Affairs and Policy (Marine)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Gary Hitchcock

Second Committee Member

Maria Estevanez

Third Committee Member

Steve Ullmann


Harmful algal blooms are almost an annual occurrence on the West Florida Shelf. They are caused by the toxic dinoflagellate Karenia brevis (K. brevis). Intense bloom events result in significant environmental, economic, and human-health impacts associated with the release of potent natural toxins, known as brevotoxins. If inhaled or ingested they can produce substantial adverse health effects. In order to mitigate and minimize the vast array of impacts associated with K. brevis blooms, an overarching interdisciplinary framework is needed. A critical factor in understanding K. brevis dynamics requires mapping and monitoring bloom development and transport, and identifying areas of localized bloom maxima, also referred to as bloom hot spots. To date, no studies have identified the spatial location and extent of clusters of statistically significant hot spots in Florida coastal waters. Few existing studies provide any confidence level when identifying areas characterized as hot spots. The goals of this research was to accurately identify K. brevis hot spot areas during different bloom periods, and explore potential correlations between school absenteeism rates and the distance from toxic bloom hot spots. Additionally, a coastal vulnerability index was developed in an attempt to assess the likelihood that some regions will experience greater health impacts from aerosolized brevotoxin exposure, compared to others. This was done through the use of Geographic Information System (GIS). The GIS Hot Spot Analysis function identified areas of significant clusters of K. brevis, while spatial interpolation methods illustrated a visual display of the extent and intensity of recurring coastal blooms.


Harmful algal blooms; Karenia brevis; hot spots; GIS; coastal vulnerability