Date of Award

Spring 6-1-2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Nature-Culture-Sustainability Studies

First Advisor

Jonathan Highfield

Second Advisor

Damian White


This research critically engages with the ecology of media discourse surrounding Florida’s “harmful algae crisis” . It uses a content analysis of online news media articles to address how the presence and unique processes of aquatic algae organisms are entangled with people and cultural practices. Specifically, this work grapples with the dynamic relationship between algae organisms and the cultural production of meaning through visual imagery/stimuli. It examines both visual and textual representations of algae in mass media communications covering the harmful algae crisis or “red tide crisis” of 2017 and 2018: an extreme period of aquatic algae proliferation and hazardous biotoxins which catalysed a state of emergency due to continual and severe inundation of Florida’s waterways.

Ultimately, this work showcases how the communication and representation of algal phenomena was predominantly contextualized within antagonistic frames of risk, hazard, and ecological crisis or mass marine mortality. A critical visual analysis of article titles and hyperlink images was used to identify potential patterns of media framing and recurring use of specific visual forms, subject matter, and emotional stimuli throughout the “harmful algae crisis”, with most visual forms and subject matter signifying elements of non-human suffering (both denotatively and connotatively). These inferences point to a growing need for improved understanding of the roles which emotional appeals and spectacle-based narrative assume in online news media communications of harmful-algae phenomena and socio-ecological dynamics or environmental crises in the broader sense.



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