BY SUE ERWIN – There was a long line wrapping around the auditorium on Friday afternoon at the Boca Grande Community Center, as hundreds of people concerned about Red Tide came to hear scientists speak about the matter.
Some guests were invited to overflow into the Woman’s Club Room for a live broadcast of the presentation, but not everyone who showed up could be accommodated at the event.
Barrier Island Parks Society board member Krista Potthast-Haynes welcomed guests and introduced Dr. Vince Lovko, Mote Marine Laboratory senior scientist who gave a presentation on harmful algal blooms and.
“I know people are tired of hearing about how complicated it is – but the truth is, it really is,” Lovko said. “There are multiple factors that can initiate a bloom. It isn’t just nutrients and storm water runoff, the atmospheric movement of nitrogen is also a big component.”
Jennifer Hecker from the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program said CHNEP is currently concentrating on four issues: Hydrologic alterations, water quality degradation, fish and wildlife habitat loss and stewardship gaps.
“The way that we are focused on these issues is through research, restoration, education, advocacy,” Hecker said. “There are many factors involved when it comes to water management.”
She added that nutrient pollution is a common, widespread problem throughout Florida, accounting for 73 percent of all impairments (meaning water that can be safely used for swimming or fishing).
“It’s a very big problem and it’s our most common pollution issue in the state,” she said.
Heckler said Cyanobacteria currently persists in Lake Okeechobee and is present at Lee County sample sites along the upstream Caloosahatchee as of November 13, 2018.
“Although the symptoms from red tide are mostly commonly acute, chronic exposure can be linked to long term complications like Alzheimer’s and dementia. It’s not just an environmental issue but a human health issue, which is why we are so concerned with it.”
She added that CHNEP staff and volunteers have been working on planting more oyster beds in Charlotte County so more water can be filtered naturally. The organization is also trying to promote more pollution control.
CHNEP teamed up with several organizations and the Calusa Waterkeeper to conduct a demo deployment of new technology in August 2018. Samples were analyzed for removal/detection of algae/cyanotoxins by the Florida and EPA approved Greenwater Laboratories. Results showed evidence of absorption of algae and toxins into a foam capillary network in concentrations ranging from 45,000 ppb (parts per billion) to 259,000 ppb.
Dr. Robert Weisberg from the University of South Florida said the epicenter of red tide in Florida is from Tampa to Naples.
“The water is oligotrophic, meaning that an organism can live an environment that offers very low levels of nutrients,” Weisburg said.
A team at USF recently deployed a robotic sampling device to map water properties within the red tide initiation region.
“Ecological prediction without adequate observations will fail, Weisberg said. “The good news is that our circulation-based approach, while incomplete at the time, is bearing fruit.”
Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife Veterinary intern Dr. Kyle Abbott gave a presentation on the various kinds of wildlife that have been treated at CROW over the past year. He said historically, 10 percent of the annual cases at CROW are sick birds and turtles affected by red tide. In 2017 CROW treated 139 red tide patients. In 2018 (as of last week) they treated 452, a more than 200 percent increase.
Dr. Richard Pierce, senior scientist at Mote Marine Laboratory spoke about red tide mitigation strategies and future research.
“We need to implement more robots and more underwater autonomous vehicles to test a broader base of the bloom,” Pierce said. “There are many ways to kill red tide, the problem is, that can kill a lot of other things as well.”
Mote Marine did a 5-day study in August in Boca Grande to field-test a newly developed method for mitigating Florida red tide.
Scientists created and patented an ozone treatment system that is being used to remove red tide cells and toxins from seawater entering Mote’s aquarium and Mote’s animal hospitals in Sarasota.
They brought equipment to the island to do field testing and took water samples back to the laboratory to test how well the machine could remove red tide from canal water.
“The pumps take raw water from the canal and filter it through two contact units, which are patented by Mote,” Pierce said.
The ozone generation system consists of an air compressor, oxygen concentrator and a commercial ozone generator, all confined in an air-conditioned trailer as a portable unit. The testing was done with permission from the Department of Environmental Protection.
Mote Marine Senior Scientist and Program Manager Dr. Tracy Fanara wrapped up the event and spoke about the technology that is available for citizens to report red tide. Citizen Science Information Collaboration (CSIC) is available for iPhone and Android devices from the App Store and Google Play. This tool allows people to help scientists by reporting when and where they experience respiratory irritation and see dead fish or discolored water.
“The best thing we can do it try to educate and notify the public on the health of our beaches,” Fanara said.
So what can be done?
Protect the wetlands, focus on pollution control, fund additional storm water and wastewater projects and create more oyster beds to naturally filter the water.
Barrier Island Parks Society Executive Director Sharon McKenzie said due to the overwhelming response to attend the forum, BIPS is planning to team up again with Mote in the future to offer more similar events on the island.
“It’s clear that people are very interested and concerned about this issue, so we hope to offer more educational events to keep the community engaged and updated.”