New tool detects red tide concentrations in the air

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne
Published: Updated:
Photo by WINK News.

On Tuesday, the most recent red tide results will be released and SWFL is hoping the red dots in the previous one that showed high levels are no longer there.

Now, there is also a new tool that can help gauge the amount of red tide concentration in the air.

Delving deeper into our red tide concerns, more like waist-deep. The online tool brings locals and visitors real-time information about red tide.

“I’d definitely look at it if I was going to the beach or bringing little kids,” said Ron Garlit from Estero.

And not just what’s in the water, what’s in the air that could reach well inland. A red tide respiratory forecast.

“The abundance of it is tabulated and sent to a database where it’s coupled with a wind forecast model to provide a respiratory irritation forecast for each beach,” said Dr. Eric Milbrandt, the Marine Lab director with Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCFF).

If the forecast says it might rain outside, you may want to go for the umbrella. The intention is the same with this website where you can go for the phone to see if red tide will irritate you.

“They’re giving a value to it and saying, ‘Okay, we think that it might be this uncomfortable for you if you go within this x amount of space to the beach,'” said Rick Armstrong, the lab manager at the Lee County Environmental Lab.

Something Jane Kearns and her husband would take advantage of.

“Respiratory irritation is very dangerous to his lung problem and it’s very important that we get accurate respiratory irritation reports,” she said.

Right now, the tool is available on three beaches on Sanibel, but the hope is to expand the tool to more beaches and more types of harmful algal blooms.

According to the new tool, Tarpon Bay is showing high chances for respiratory issues as of Tuesday.

But you don’t have to be standing on the beach, or even close to it to feel the effects of red tide.

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation told WINK News they know the airborne toxins from the water travels at least a mile inland.

This test will help scientists figure out how badly those toxins can cause respiratory problems on any given day.

The tool works by taking water samples from three different areas, one of these being Tarpon Bay Beach.

When they put those samples under a special microscope, it uses video and artificial intelligence to detect those red tide toxins almost immediately.

That paired with wind conditions and the currents give scientists their answer.

So far this year, scientists say the red tide in Southwest Florida has not been bad.

Last year, it came in strong mid-summer, this year it wasn’t detected until just a few weeks ago, and the levels are much lower.

The Hab-Scope website is an experimental tool, meaning it’s not an official forecast.

The place and time of respiratory irritation can shift because of things like bloom movements, wind and currents.

To use the tool online, click here.

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