Red tide research challenge wraps up on New Year’s Eve

Red tide research challenge wraps up on New Year’s Eve

BY SUE ERWIN – Last year, when Mote Marine Laboratory announced a campaign to raise funds for red tide research, a donor in Boca Grande pledged to match donations up to $100,000. So far, the organization has raised more than $66,000 to expand research and outreach efforts in Boca Grande.

The donors have challenged the Southwest Florida community to match and exceed this philanthropic investment to support Mote’s efforts to address harmful algal blooms in the area.

“We are thrilled by the generosity of this anonymous donor that will allow Mote to advance new technologies to address the harmful effects of red tide in Boca Grande specifically,” said Erin Kabinoff, chief development officer of Mote Marine Laboratory. “With well over half of the funds raised toward this effort, we feel both encouraged and excited that the community is invested in these research innovations with us.”

Harmful algal blooms, such as Florida red tides caused by Karenia brevis algae, can kill fish, deter tourists, close shellfish harvest areas and cause beachgoers to suffer respiratory problems such as coughing and sneezing due to airborne toxins. Water discoloration is another effect of red tide.

“We are really excited about it, and we’re getting close but still have a ways to go,” said Shelby Isaacson, public relations manager at Mote Marine. “We hope more people will help with this challenge so we’re able to reach this goal by the end of the year.”

There have recently been high traces of the algal bloom in the canal systems from Lee County to Sarasota County.

To this day, scientists have not found a true solution to combat some of the most challenging algal blooms without risks to the Gulf of Mexico’s sensitive ecosystems.

However, Mote Marine has focused on leading researchers on the topic for decades, and this recent challenge will help expand innovative approaches and technologies to address the critical need for red tide prevention, control and mitigation.

Specifically, the new donation challenge will support expansion of local community outreach and engagement, new technology and improved rapid response strategies.

Dr. Tracy Fanara, a scientist at Mote Marine in Sarasota, said the physical environment in the Gulf of Mexico makes it difficult to track tide blooms.

“We are working on exploratory research on how to better control and mitigate the blooms,” Fanara said. “Monitoring is very important, and that’s why we rely on our citizen scientists in the area to help with our research.”

Smartphone users can now download a new app to self-report impacts of Florida red tide algae (Karenia brevis), thanks to Mote Marine Laboratory’s project to engage citizen scientists along Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coast.

The free app, Citizen Science Information Collaboration (CSIC), allows users to report when and where they experience respiratory irritation or see discolored water or dead fish – all potential indications of Florida red tide.

The app is available for iOS and Android phones.

This summer and later, Mote scientists plan to add multiple other reportable environmental conditions beyond red tide impacts.

To learn more about current projects, visit mote.org.