FGCU researchers study red tide blooming after Hurricane Ian

Reporter: Asha Patel Writer: Joey Pellegrino
A fish killed by red tide is eaten by flies on the beach. Credit: WINK News

Researchers from Florida Gulf Coast University are studying the red tide blooming after Hurricane Ian, as Southwest Floridians hope it doesn’t last as long as the bloom post-Irma.

If the red tide bloom following Ian is anything like what Southwest Florida experienced after Irma—lasting for several months, during which millions of pounds of dead fish washed ashore—it will feel like a second punch to the gut for many living by the water. No one wants to see the return of signs warning eventual beachgoers of the presence of red tide. And the fish kills are one thing, but seeing dead dolphins wash ashore is even harder to take.

A dolphin killed by red tide washes up on the beach. Credit: WINK News


Red tide is caused by the explosive population growth of phytoplankton, a minute, single-celled algae. Hurricane Ian dumped a lot of rain and runoff into the Gulf, and FGCU researchers spent a week taking samples and running tests on the water to see whether the storm created ripe conditions for red tide. While no one wanted a hurricane to storm through the Gulf, scientists quickly took advantage of the chance to study its effects, because there is still so much they do not know about red tide.

“I primarily do a lot of work with harmful algal blooms, as well as different types of marine chemistry,” said Susannah Cogburn, a marine science student at the Water School at FGCU. “I do a lot of work with ocean acidification and do a lot of, like, the actual physical extractions from our sediment that we get to see if there’s any brevetoxin, which is a toxin produced from red tide.”

FGCU researchers venture out onto the Gulf of Mexico by boat to test the conditions in which red tide blooms. Credit: WINK News

Both researchers and students joined the Florida Institute of Oceanography on a seven-day mission. Among their priorities: Assess the impact of Ian on Southwest Florida’s water and sea life.

“We’re collecting water samples and particulate samples to try and better understand the effects of this hurricane on the near-shore Gulf of Mexico,” said Eric Milbrandt, lab director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. “It was such a large event that the effects are seen from Tampa all the way to Naples.”

Researchers test water off the coast of Southwest Florida while studying red tide. Credit: WINK News

A study published earlier this year found that simply breathing in red tide-laced air can trigger serve illness in some people, especially those who suffer from migraines or chronic fatigue. Because of how vast red tide can be, the University of Florida did its own study after the 2018 bloom. Researchers then found red tide cost the state $184 million in tourism.

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