Researchers finish weeklong study of post-Ian Gulf water quality

Reporter: Elizabeth Biro Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

Marine scientists across the state want to know how the Gulf of Mexico has changed and if it has improved nearly six months since Hurricane Ian. One group of researchers is making a weeklong voyage through the eastern Gulf to find out.

The work began just moments after setting sail.

“We’re doing this cruise this time six months after Hurricane Ian—we want to know what the long-term impacts are,” said Adam Catasus, chief scientist on the research cruise. “How is the system doing? Gulf of Mexico, Southwest Florida, the whole central west coast of Florida down all the way to Marco Island. So, we’ll find out”

Scientists from Florida Gulf Coast University and the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation will use a series of tests to evaluate the state of the water.

One test involves a massive device called the CTD rosette grabbing samples of the Gulf waters.

“The beauty of having the 12 bottles is we can take water at any depth,” said James Javaruski, a former FGCU graduate student. “Some sites, we’ll take three bottles at surface, three bottles in the middle and three bottles at the bottom.”

While one team grabs water, another takes samples of sediment.

“It’s a giant claw, almost, that… we drop it quickly, it hits the bottom and slaps shut, and then it scoops up a clump of sediment,” Javaruski said. “And since we’re doing it over such a large area, it allows us to get a much more holistic view of Tampa Bay, Fort Myers sediments, Naples sediments.”

And yet another team filters water for radium or radioisotopes.

“It allows us to trace nutrient inputs or water inputs into a specific area,” Javaruski said.

Radium concentration acts like the water’s fingerprint: Is the water from underground or on land? Did it carry with it nutrients that fuel harmful algal blooms?

“Because we’ve had such a comprehensive survey of this area prior to the storm, we can see the ways that a hurricane like Ian would come through and affect the benthic environment, would affect the water after that,” Javaruski said.

What’s in the water? What’s in the sea bottom sediment? And where did all of that come from? From sunrise until sundown, these scientists are at work so we can better understand the environment after a major storm.

Red tide is also a major focus for this group. The study is being done in collaboration with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The Weatherbird is one of two research vessels operated by the state-funded Florida Institute of Oceanography, which supports marine science research in the state’s university system.

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