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Study Quantifies Impact of Water Quality on Economy

January 16, 2024

SWFL nonprofits join efforts to execute a study quantifying impacts of degraded water quality on the economy

On Jan. 16, Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF), Captains for Clean Water (CFCW), and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida released the findings of a study executed by Greene Economics, which quantifies the economic impacts of harmful water-quality events (like Harmful Algal Blooms) and degraded water quality on the southwest Florida economy.

The results of the analysis show that with another event in Charlotte, Lee, and Collier Counties similar to the HABs experienced in 2005/6 and 2018, the study area would lose:

  • Over $460 million in commercial and recreational fishing
  • Over 43,000 jobs
  • $5.2 billion in local economic output
  • $17.8 billion in property values with an associated $60 million in property tax revenue
  • $8.1 billion in the value of outdoor recreation (or, quality of life)

View the full study >>

Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) is the proliferation of a toxic algal species that negatively affects natural resources or humans. HABs would include cyanobacteria from Lake Okeechobee discharges and/or red tide events. The study focuses on the quantifiable negative effect that HABs have on the economy, and how the magnitude of those negative impacts is likely to increase as the frequency and intensity of events compound on an already weakened ecosystem. The study also highlights how good water quality has a positive economic impact and that projects and policies that improve water quality will pay off through a more robust economy.

Whale shark found dead on SWFL beach due to the effects of red tide in 2018.Whale shark found dead on SWFL beach due to the effects of red tide in 2018.

Massive amounts of fish found dead on SWFL beach due to the effects of red tide in 2018.Massive amounts of fish found dead on SWFL beach due to the effects of red tide in 2018.

“This landmark study highlights the inextricable value of our water quality to the future of our region. It quantifies how the increased frequency of harmful algal blooms and events that are harmful to water quality jeopardize our fragile coastal ecosystems and the economy by causing huge losses during recovery between events. We are experiencing a regional emergency that demands urgent action on science-based projects and policies that improve water quality.”

James Evans, CEO at Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation       

four people smiling
L-R: Conservancy of Southwest Florida President & CEO Rob Moher, SCCF CEO James Evans, Captains for Clean Water Executive Director Capt. Daniel Andrews, and President & CEO of the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce John Lai. All leaders gave remarks about the report at a Jan. 16 press conference on Fort Myers Beach.

“As a fishing guide, I know firsthand how poor water quality and algal blooms affect our local economy. When there are dead fish, dolphins and turtles on the beaches, and you can’t breathe, trips to our area get cancelled. Charters get cancelled. And it’s not just the fishing guides, everyone from the commercial fisherman to local hotel owners, to realtors and restaurant owners are impacted. There is a significant trickle down effect and our entire economy suffers. If we have political will to push for best practices that improve the quality of our waters, like critical Everglades restoration projects, then these losses can be avoided.”

Capt. Daniel Andrews, Executive Director at Captains For Clean Water

With increased rainfall this dry season and higher than average Lake Okeechobee levels, there is potential for a poor water quality event in the coming months. This report is expected to be a beneficial resource moving forward because it not only confirms that these negative water quality events have clear quantifiable impacts on both the local and the regional economy, but it also establishes a framework to evaluate future economic impacts from a variety of water-quality scenarios. The analysis developed a data-based spreadsheet tool (to be released soon) that will enable local decision-makers to view and interpret economic impacts resulting from a range of scenarios related to economic growth and development, HAB occurrences and frequencies, and ecologic recovery periods. The goal of this tool will be to facilitate better informed investment decisions that accurately factor in water-quality impacts.

“Our region’s economic and ecological well-being hinges on the health of our water. Yet, while there’s almost universal agreement that our water fuels our economy, our water quality continues to decline. The findings of this report are dire, and must serve as a wake-up call – to the public, to elected officials and to community leaders.  Everyone who loves southwest Florida should be more informed, motivated and mobilized – we cannot afford to wait any longer for meaningful action to clean up and protect our precious water resources.”

Rob Moher, President & CEO at Conservancy of Southwest Florida

This is a joint effort between Captains For Clean Water, the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Access the Executive Summary here, and the full study here. For questions or to request interviews, contact the organizations directly: 


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