■ BY SUE ERWIN
Close to 100 people filled the Mote Marine Boca Grande office on January 9, to hear Dr. Vince Lovko speak on Florida red tide.
His presentation, “Florida Red Tide – What’s True and What We Can Do” included information about how a red tide bloom is initiated and the phases that occur during a bloom.
Lovko started the presentation by asking how many people in the audience have experienced respiratory problems due to red tide over the past year – and everyone in attendance raised their hands.
“We understand everyone wants clear answers, but each bloom is different and triggered by many factors,” Lovko said. “The fact is, red tide is endemic to this area, and more research is needed to determine how the organisms thrive. We know the cells don’t like too much light, which we have an abundance of in Florida. It would be great to do more comprehensive testing with USF and FWC.”
Lovko discussed the history of red tide, how it was first reported in 1952 and first scientifically documented in 1844.
He said the current 15-month bloom has affected up to 160 miles of shoreline from Charlotte to Collier counties.
Lovko said that when dolphins eat fish during red tide blooms, they ingest the toxin that could lead to mortality.
“Manatees get a ‘double whammy,’ because they eat seagrass containing the organism and then breathe air at the surface containing airborne toxins,” he said.
A question-and-answer session followed the presentation.
A guest asked the scientist if there is evidence that marine mammals vacate the area during red tide. Lovko responded that it doesn’t appear that the manatees do, because they are so susceptible to it, and it’s partly because they don’t have a choice – if a bloom occurs in the winter, they’re trying to stay in warm water because colder water stresses them.
“Other organisms like eagle rays seem to avoid red tide, whereas the dolphins swim right through it,” he said.
Lovko said the local water is regularly tested where commercial fishers obtain shellfish, so consuming commercially caught oysters, clams and scallops is safe. Recreational harvesters are not advised to eat shellfish when there is a bloom. Whelks are carnivores that consume bivalves, so remember they can carry the toxin as well, since they eat other shellfish.
Because this bloom occurred during breeding season, Mote scientists did see effects of red tide directly on stone crabs, which will greatly affect harvesting over the next two years.
Another guest asked if fish are safe to eat. Lovko said they are – just don’t eat the “fish guts” where the toxins are carried.
Attendees enjoyed coffee, pastries, fruit and yogurt catered by Kappy’s Downtown.
Lovko is the manager of Mote’s Phytoplankton Ecology program and has been researching red tide off the west coast of Florida from Tampa to Naples for several years.
The “Coffee with a Scientist” events are free and open to the public at the Mote Marine Laboratory Boca Grande Outreach Office, located at 480 E. Railroad Ave.
Join Dr. Jim Locascio, Mote’s Fisheries Habitat Ecology & Acoustics program manager, at the next event planned for 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019.