Veteran Florida Sea Grant Agent Takes New Role As Liaison At Federal Level – Expertise In Harmful Algal Blooms

A veteran Florida Sea Grant UF/IFAS Extension agent will now work in a larger role to help mitigate harmful algal blooms nationwide.

For 17 years as an Extension agent, Betty Staugler has been based at the UF/IFAS Extension Charlotte County office, helping coastal residents, anglers and other water-dependent businesspeople deal with marine ecosystem issues such as harmful algal blooms in Southwest Florida.

Sea Grant is a program within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and administered in Florida through the University of Florida. In her new role as a liaison between Florida Sea Grant and two other NOAA programs, Staugler will coordinate harmful algal bloom communications. She’ll also develop new data-driven communication tools about algal blooms to better serve decision-makers who address this growing concern.

In addition to working with Sea Grant, Staugler will collaborate with the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) and the NOAA CoastWatch/OceanWatch/PolarWatch Program (NOAA CoastWatch).

“There is an urgent need for this position, especially in Florida where harmful algal blooms are a significant, growing and immediate environmental, economic and health crisis facing our coasts,” said Sherry Larkin, director of Florida Sea Grant. “We were lucky to recruit Betty into this position given her strong connections through the Sea Grant network and her extensive experience in working with scientists to better explain the modeling predictions and results to the public.”

UF/IFAS Photography Of Betty Staugler

Staugler will serve as a bridge between NOAA researchers and various stakeholders associated with the project team and other stakeholders identified from federal and state agencies and universities.

“The two partners (NCCOS and NOAA CoastWatch) I work with have expertise in different aspects of remote sensing, most notably the use of satellite imagery and models to determine the location, size and trajectory of a harmful algal bloom,” she said.

This knowledge can help direct resource managers and public health officials to areas that need more intense monitoring, public risk signs and more, Staugler said.

“That way, we can give water-dependent businesses a heads up,” she said. “For example, clam farmers may want to mitigate losses when a bloom is imminent. Where drinking water resources may be compromised, facilities such as water plants use our forecasting to protect drinking water supplies.”

How will she conduct her outreach in her new role? Staugler will teach primarily resource managers, public health professionals and Extension agents across the country how to access and use forecasts and satellite data for their own application as well as coordinate feedback and help inform the development of new satellite products, tools, and services to improve harmful algal bloom monitoring.        

She’ll also develop workshops that let participants explore the newest data on harmful algal blooms and examine models that can predict them. In turn, audiences at the workshops will ask questions and provide input. Staugler then helps scientists identify harmful algal bloom priorities and needs across the nation.

The project that Staugler will lead includes Sea Grant programs in Washington state, Ohio, New York, Maryland, Texas and a combined one for Mississippi and Alabama. It also includes six of the Integrated Ocean Observing System regional partnership programs.

National Sea Grant uses liaisons such as Staugler to enhance federal partnerships. That’s because they provide expertise on stakeholder engagement to solve problems.

“My hope is that my efforts support stewardship and decision-making by filling important knowledge and data gaps,” Staugler said. “And, I will apply an eager optimism toward addressing a growing and significant threat facing our nation’s coasts and communities – the persistent occurrence of harmful algal blooms.”

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