Picture of Battleground Lake by Jiwon Lim, East-West Center in Washington Young Professional

Florida and South Korea Agencies Announce Memorandum of Understanding on Harmful Algal Blooms

Asia Korea

This month, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with South Korea’s National Institute of Environmental Research and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on the issue of harmful algal bloom (HAB) management and response. From alleviating the issue of HABs to furthering relations between the two entities, this MOU stands to produce long-term economic and technological benefits.

This year, forecasts anticipate an abnormally hot summer for Florida, and with it, the annual threat of harmful algal blooms (HAB) that thrive in the heat. To prepare for the upcoming summer season, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with South Korea’s National Institute of Environmental Research (NIER) to establish a framework for collaboration, mutual learning, and technology sharing on the issue of HAB reduction.

This MOU follows the Governor’s trade and cultural mission trip to Japan, South Korea, Israel, and the United Kingdom in 2023, where he met with Prime Minister Han Duck-Soo to advocate for an economic partnership between Florida and South Korea. Additionally, the MOU comes less than two months after the 2024 World Water Day International Symposium held in South Korea. There, Florida Chief Science Officer Dr. Mark Rains presented on Florida’s HAB regulation policies, further displaying the foundations of South Korea-Florida relations regarding HAB management.

HAB in Florida

Since its introduction in the 1500s, HABs have wreaked havoc on the ecosystems and public health of Florida with now over 75 HAB species being monitored by state agencies. For Florida, red tide and blue-green algae are the root cause of many issues. These species can cause catastrophic damages, as seen previously in 2018 when a red tide bloom killed 2,000 tons of marine life and caused $8 million in business losses. And if these HABs are left unresolved, they can release cyanotoxins that lead to respiratory issues in humans.

To combat these issues, upon his election, Governor Ron DeSantis created the Blue-Green Algae Task Force in 2019 to address the issue of recurring HABs in Florida. Thus far, his administration has invested $65 million into mitigating the effects and impacts of HABs. However, despite the efforts in the past five years, HABs remain a danger to the public with signs of algae returning to the southeast coast of Florida this spring.

HAB in South Korea

These HAB issues have been echoed in South Korean waterways including in the Han and Nakdong rivers. For the past few years, the HAB situation in the Nakdong river – the longest river in South Korea – has deteriorated. In 2022, blue-green algae terrorized the citizens of Busan and Daegu and their public water systems, increasing the risk for Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders. This June, exacerbated by the sudden hot weather, blue-green algae has already been spotted in Suwon’s Gwanggyo reservoir, inciting unease in the public as the summer draws near.

NIER and Florida DEP Cooperation

As part of their vision, NEIR aims to provide a higher quality of life through scientific research. To this end, it has been involved in various algae related technological developments and projects including the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project aimed at restoring the Han, Nakdong, Geum, and Yeongsan rivers. In the past, it has also worked with Korean water management company K Water to develop the GATe Water Combine, an ecofriendly technology to control HAB. Currently, NEIR operates an algae alert system to monitor water quality at public water supply source sites for accurate predictions of bacteria.

In light of their shared concern over HABs and NEIR’s technological expertise, the Florida DEP has chosen to collaborate with NEIR in expanding Florida’s capabilities to respond to HAB. Governor DeSantis believes that this will build on the existing strong economic partnership – particularly in the technology sector – and further ongoing research. Hanseung Kum, President of NEIR, supported this statement by noting that they are not “just sharing knowledge; [they’re] forging a path to resilience against environmental challenges”.

Seeing how the current merchandise trade between Florida and South Korea exceeds $1.3 billion, making Florida the country's 7th largest bilateral trade partner in the Asia and Middle East region, this MOU seems to signal a welcomed growth of economic and technological trade between Florida and South Korea.

Jiwon Lim is a Summer 2024 Young Professional at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a rising first year at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies pursuing an MA in International Relations with a functional focus in Security, Strategy, and Statecraft and a regional focus in Asia