Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

Gabriel Vargo, Ph.D.

Committee Member

G. Michael Killenberg, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Karen A. Steidinger, Ph.D.


This thesis consists of a comprehensive historical review and evaluation of Florida red tide research and a multifaceted analysis of red tide coverage by the St. Petersburg Times from 1953 to 1997. Red tides caused by Gymnodinium breve along the Florida Gulf coast are riddled with complexity; scientists have been asking many of the same questions for nearly 50 years. Red tides also attract considerable media publicity. This thesis addressed the following: 1. What have scientists learned about Florida red tides since G. breve was identified in 1948?, and 2. How well was the issue covered by the newspaper media?

Extensive written and tabular data were compiled for the scientific analysis, which revealed many unanswered questions about the fundamental ecology of G. breve. For example, the mechanism by which blooms begin is still unknown. The seed bed hypothesis was described in the 1970s, but the cyst stage of the life cycle has not yet been confirmed. Also, the role of other spatially and temporally associated bloom species such as Trichodesmium was suggested in the 1950s but remains unconfirmed. Another fundamental question is the definition of a "bloom"; there is a need to agree on what constitutes a bloom so the dynamics of blooms at large can be better understood. Long- term studies are also needed to delineate nutrient fluxes over time, to determine the role of river and runoff in maintaining blooms inshore, and to understand how physical dynamics work synergistically with G. breve biology. The potential use of chaos theory and fractals to help define a bloom and understand nonlinear bloom dynamics was also proposed.

The historical newspaper analysis revealed many inadequacies in the red tide coverage. More than 500 articles were analyzed, a brief case study performed, appendices compiled, and trends in the coverage delineated. Critiques of content and accuracy were discussed; inadequacies ranged from inconsistency to sensationalism and misinformation. Recommendations for improving coverage of this significant public information issue were offered in the form of a checklist. The use of improved web-based information sources was suggested as a method to improve communication between scientists, journalists and the public.

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