An innovative team on a research cruise seeks red tide solutions

Reporter: Gina Tomlinson
Published: Updated:

Cruise ships leave Miami everyday empowering passengers with a taste of the good life. But the passengers on the ship that left five days ago had a different aim for their excursion: To find a solution for the disastrous red tide.

The passengers from the research cruise are as diverse as the Miami culture. They consist of several fisherman; scientists, oceanographers and researchers from leading environmental agencies; and rising college students.

To effectively achieve the mission, a lot of equipment was loaded onto the ship, initially shocking the captain. But each of the items are necessary, Dr. John Walter said from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “That’s really what it takes because red tide affects the entire ecosystem and we need to see what those impacts are on all those parts of the system.”

The group was assembled to collect samples and compile data from the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf Coast. The experts on board the ship have an estimate of how much red tide is in the water, but at the same time, they want to catch the fish that inhabit various parts and evaluate the communities on the bottom.

“What we can do is piece together how those things interact,” Walter said, “and how one part affects the other part.”

Satellites are helping from the sky as they guide the captain steering the boat through waters infected by red tide. It’s a team effort for the crew. The fish that they catch will then be examined and provide answers for the future.

The project has immediacy as red tide has devastated marine life in southwest Florida over the last year. Red tide naturally occurs in the Gulf of Mexico, but nutrient runoff from farms and residential communities has increased the boom’s frequency, intensity and duration.

Millions of pounds of marine life has died on Lee County beaches over the summer, with a peak in June. It has deter tourist from visiting the beaches and the surrounding area, which has been devastating for local businesses, such as fisheries that sell their catches to barren restaurants.

But issues surrounding red tide have been decreasing recently — just in time for the official start of the red tide season. While it is unlikely this season will have the same impact, the people on the ship are working to solve a long term problem.

“It’s obviously important that we get things right,” Andy Atack said, a team member on the ship, “and prevent it in the future, you know?”





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