Red tide research not slowing down despite shrinking bloom

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

People living in Southwest Florida can breathe easier now that red tide has lessened along our coast. Scientists studying the harmful algal bloom explained to WINK News why sampling and studying now is just as important as when we see a severe bloom.

Karenia brevis, the organism that comprises red tide, is always around. It lives in the water column, buried in the sediment.

“We had the storm—everything got stirred up,” said Calli Johnson, a Florida Gulf Coast University dive safety officer. “And the idea is that the organism that causes red tide also gets stirred up when things like that happen.”

Stirred up and fueled by excess nutrients that infiltrated the Gulf. When K. brevis grows out of control, it becomes a problem that leads to dead marine life on the shoreline and respiratory irritation for us on land.

Johnson has witnessed these phenomena in varying intensities since Hurricane Ian.

​”Once the red tide ran its course, then we’re seeing this time period now where things are starting to look better, but we’re not out of the woods,” Johnson said. “That can come back just as easily as it went away.”

But Eric Milbrandt, director of the marine laboratory at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, explains that even though the bloom has calmed down, the research on it has not.

“The termination of the bloom is maybe one of the most interesting things that we can study because if we understand that better, we may be able to intervene or mitigate in ways that we haven’t come up with before,” Milbrandt said.

That’s why it’s important for these researchers to constantly gather data, detail their observations and look for correlations. It allows scientists like Adam Catasus, education and research coordinator at FGCU’s Vester Marine and Environmental Science Research Field Station, to create better predictive models of the dynamic and complex red tide.

“If we know what the conditions are when there isn’t a bloom, or when the bloom is dying down, that’s going to be really important, and how to manage the situation,” Catasus said. “We have datasets that can then be used to predict what happens in the future for the next storm. Or even if there isn’t a storm.”

Catasus was the chief scientist on the weeklong Gulf voyage taken by several marine researchers with FGCU and SCCF, spent studying the oceanic conditions six months after Ian.

“Not seeing dead fish and being able to breathe on the water is pretty nice!” Catasus said.” I bet everyone likes it way more.”

After all, the surf, sand and sunshine are why people live in and come to Southwest Florida.

The rainy season is right around the corner. With it comes the potential for water releases from Lake Okeechobee. Scientists have linked nutrients from the estuaries to red tide.

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