A new study says that the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary generates $4.4 billion for the state’s economy, but that a severe algae outbreak could cause a $1.5 billion economic hit.
The sanctuary, a popular diving and fishing destination stretching from Miami to the Tortugas, also provides 43,000 Florida jobs, the study by TBD Economics found. In the Keys, 54 percent of jobs and 60 percent of all spending are related to tourism, the researchers found.
Pollution from sewage, manure, and fertilizer that causes algae outbreaks along the coral reef system is a critical threat. In a so-called “normal year,” researchers estimate that economic losses from algae outbreaks at the marine sanctuary could cause an economic hit of $389 million. An “extreme” algae outbreak “could cause up to $1.5 billion in damages,” the economic researchers found.
The sanctuary contains North America’s only coral barrier reef and more than 6,000 species of marine life, and tourists flock to the region. The study says the Florida Keys gets 3 million overnight visitors a year, and more than 400,000 day visitors. Key West hosts about 750,000 cruise ship visitors a year.