Devastating Red Tide Impacts Coastal Communities of Western Florida
|Karenia brevis bloom as imaged by FlowCam. Sample was collected off Sanibel Island in August 2018 by Eric Milbrandt, Director of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, and sent to Fluid Imaging Technologies for analysis.|
This past summer a red tide spread along the Gulf of Mexico shoreline killing millions of fish and threatening human health (not to mention impacting regional tourism). Harmful algae blooms (HABs) like this occur with regularity nationwide and cost an estimated $50 million each year.
Florida is a Case Study for the Need to Improve HAB Funding
Beyond the problems along the Gulf Coast, southeastern Florida is experiencing a blue-green, cyanobacteria bloom in the St. Lucie River. Recent testing shows that water samples are 10 times too toxic to even touch due to high levels of microcystin, a toxin that can make people and animals sick. Direct contact with the algae can cause a rash. When ingested, the toxin can cause nausea, vomiting, and in some sever cases, acute liver failure.
To study the effects of HABs and other ocean and Great Lakes pathogens, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), one of the National Institutes of Health, have awarded new grants totaling $30 million. The grants fund research on ecosystems in the oceans and in the Great Lakes Basin.
"These grants will allow us to better understand the public health risks associated with environmental exposures in marine coastal regions and the Great Lakes Basin," said Fred Tyson, a program director in NIEHS' Division of Extramural Research and Training.
While not a recipient of grant funding, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) has recently purchased a FlowCam for HAB monitoring and general phytoplankton research. SCCF is dedicated to the conservation of coastal habitats and aquatic resources on Sanibel and Captiva and in the surrounding watershed.
A relatively small marine conservation association located west of Tampa on the Gulf coast, the SCCF was in the process of building a new laboratory when the executive director met with our VP of Aquatic Markets, Harry Nelson, at the Coastal & Estuarine Research Federation (CERF) conference last year. Given the ongoing crisis in the Gulf Coast, the FlowCam was identified and selected for its ability to quickly and easily characterize water quality.