New red tide funding for ‘weapons’

Red tide fish kill
Dead fish killed by red tide washed up on the beach on Friday. Manatee County crews rake the beaches daily. - Cindy Lane | Sun

CITY ISLAND – Nearly $2.2 million in newly-allocated state funds will be used to develop weapons to fight red tide, not just study it, Mote Marine Laboratory CEO Dr. Michael Crosby announced today.

It’s the first initiative to do something other than monitor and research the Karenia brevis algae that causes red tide, Crosby said.

Red tide is an algae bloom that produces neurotoxins deadly to marine life and shorebirds. It also poisons shellfish and causes respiratory irritation in people. Florida has been under a state of emergency due to red tide since August, with the bloom affecting tourism and residents along the southwest coast of Florida from Englewood to St. Petersburg, beginning last fall.

The new funds will be used to test and launch new weapons against red tide, including clay and ozone, Crosby said.

Mote will work with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the University of South Florida and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to conduct new field tests of an improved clay technology focused on killing red tide, different from previous, unsuccessful clay experiments, he said.

Laboratory tests on clay will begin within days, and small field experiments will begin in about six weeks, FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton said, explaining that the results of the experiments will dictate when and if it can be used on a large-scale basis.

Mote already is testing ozone in canals in Boca Grande where it is successfully removing the Karenia brevis algae that causes red tide. Red tide water is pumped into an ozone conductor, where the ozone kills the red tide and re-oxygenates the water without releasing ozone into the environment, according to Mote Senior Scientist Dr. Richard Pierce.

“One thing we have to be careful of is to do no harm,” Crosby said, explaining that many things kill red tide, but also kill marine life. When red tide dies, it releases any remaining toxin it holds, he said, adding, “We don’t want to make matters worse.”

One day, Crosby said, “We should be able to forecast red tide events the same way we forecast hurricanes.” While hurricane forecasts focus on physical forces, red tide forecasting also includes chemical and biological factors, making it more complex, he said.

Nutrients worsen red tide

Red tide has been documented along Florida’s Gulf Coast since the 1500s. While its causes are natural, Crosby said that nutrients can affect its duration and intensity.

“As much as we all would like to be able to point our finger at one or two or three particular things, red tide is just not that simple,” he said.

Coastal waters are naturally nutrient-rich whether there are human beings living there or not, Crosby said.

However, “each and every one of us every day in our life is contributing to nutrients flowing from the terrestrial environmental into the coastal environment,” he said. “Each of us can decrease the amount of nutrients in our own yards, planting more native vegetation. Each and every one of us does have a role to play in this.”

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