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Thursday, 19 November 2015 09:40

Algae Concerns in Southern Florida Once Again In Bloom

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Red Tide bloom off Florida's coast... Red Tide bloom off Florida's coast... source:noaa.gov

Pdf: Red Tide status map, November 13, 2015. Source: myfwc.com

GenieGlider: Mote engineering technician Michael Tamez and Mote postdoctoral scientist Dr. Jordon Beckler prepare to launch AUV “Genie” for a test at sea on Oct. 28. Source: mote.org

Algae Concerns in Southern Florida Once Again In Bloom

The beautiful waters of Southern Florida are one of the chief attractions for the region, bringing in new residents and tourists from all over the world to enjoy the natural splendor of the area. However, nature doesn’t always accommodate these visitors, as is the case recently with red tide blooms once again appearing off our coasts.

This past autumn, blooms of red tide were detected off the shores of several counties on the Gulf Coast in Florida. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported that satellite images from November 11th and 12th, alongside samples taken from November 5th to the 12th, gave evidence of the organisms presence in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, and Bay Counties along the Northwest coast, and Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, and Lee Counties in Southwest Florida. They also took evidence from recent fish kill events.

Red Tide is a persistent problem in the state, posing health risks to those in areas affected by it. Among the causes of these risks are natural toxins produced by the algae and depletion of oxygen in the water, which can have negative effects on wildlife and vegetation. Humans are at risk from contaminated shellfish harvested from areas with red tide, which can cause illness. Being near blooms themselves can cause irritation of the repertory systems and eyes.

Red tide is naturally occurring along coasts all over the globe, and some may not produce toxins. Some have speculated that red tide in areas is caused by excessive nutrients introduced into the ecosystem by way of nitrates and phosphates in agricultural runoff, alongside increases in the temperature in the waters over the years. While annual occurrences of the blooms can be traced back hundreds of years, duration and intensity of red tide, which can last weeks to months at a time, may be explained by increased human activity.

In order to get better information on these organisms, which carry the scientific name of Karenia brevis, the Mote Marine Laboratory out of Sarasota recently unveiled and launched a robotic glider by the name of ‘Genie.’ Named in contest for Manatee County 5th Graders after the famed ‘Shark Lady’ Eugenie Clark, who passed away this year, the unmanned torpedo-shaped vehicle can monitor numerous microscopic organisms. Its 15 day mission began on November 9th.

“Genie is traveling through an area that we’ve been monitoring for years — she’s helping us paint a picture of the present and long-term patterns that many different scientists study, often with the aim of producing models and forecasts that benefit the public,” Dr. Jordon Beckler, postdoctoral scientist in Mote’s Ocean Technology Program, said in a recent article released by the Marine Laboratory. “For example, we hope Genie will travel through the patches of Florida red tide algae that have recently accumulated off Southwest Florida. This can help us monitor current conditions and provide information to partners who generate short-term forecasts of red tide. It also helps us work toward answering the much tougher, long-term question: Why do Florida red tides behave the way they do?”

However, Gene’s mission is multi-purpose.

“Genie’s mission is not just about answering one research question,” Beckler continued. “The many kinds of data we can gather — temperature, salinity, water movement — can be used in a lot of beneficial projects. We make the data available online where anyone can use it.”

Some of these additional functions include tracking tagged fish to study their migration patterns. It will also study other microscopic organisms besides red tide. It’s mission will take in southwest along the Florida Coast, sometimes going out as far as 100 miles from shore.

Information that Mote collects through Genie will be distributed by the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS), an online data portal that makes available vital information to those using these waters.
“We know that red tides can be harmful to public health, so it’s very important that we have methods to track a bloom’s movements in the Gulf — and that we report that information to the public and to resource managers as soon as its available,” Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick, Executive Director of GCOOS, said. “That’s one of the benefits that GCOOS is able to provide to research organizations like Mote as well as the community overall — we provide a clearinghouse where researchers, managers and the public can access information when they need it, as soon as they need it.”

Red tide can appear in many colors, from green to brown. Some may have no coloration at all. The number of organisms in a single bloom can reach tens of millions for every liter of seawater in the affected area.

By Trent Townsend, with additional material from Mote Marine Laboratory

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