New device from FAU makes it easier to track, study red tide

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

Red tide is blooming once again at high levels around Englewood Beach and Gasparilla Pass, as well as at medium levels around Marco Island and at low levels around Sanibel. It is a complex organism with a fast lifespan, but a new device may make it much easier for scientists to detect and study.

Karenia brevis moves with the currents, the wind and the waves; it can change on a dime. Aditya R. Nayak, assistant professor in the Florida Atlantic University Department of Ocean and Mechanical Engineering, says that flexibility is what makes red tide so hard to study.

“What people typically do for monitoring red tide is you go out on a boat, collect samples,” Nayak said. “And then taking it back to the lab and processing it. So, it’s tedious, cumbersome, as well as time-consuming, right? From the time of sample collection to analysis requires a few days.”

But FAU’s new red tide detection method looks to narrow the timeline, studying current concentrations across a large area with AUTOHOLO.

“We envision it as part of an early warning system,” Nayak said.

AUTOHOLO is a device that uses a camera to capture an image of the water like a 3D microscope.

“The second step is a processing step,” Nayak said. “And we’re using machine learning tools here to be able to rapidly identify and detect it.

In the near future, the image capture and cell-detection software will merge so we can have nearly real-time reporting. The device can be dragged behind a boat to monitor red tide across a space, or it can be stationary—dropped in one spot in the water or attached to a buoy and left to do its job.

​”Imagine that you have the system out there and you can… you just have to go out there a couple of times a month to service it,” Nayak said. “But it’s recording data, it’s turning on and off on its own.”

AUTOHOLO can cut out the limitations that come with current sampling methods and bring us faster results when tracking red tide.

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