Red tide projections indicate no toxic blooms in the near future

The Gulf of Mexico has been spared the red tide so far this year. The typical season for these toxic algal blooms is from late summer through fall.

“When we typically see the most blooms, looking back, it would typically be September, October, November,” said Kate Hubbard, who leads the red tide program at Florida Fish and Wildlife’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. Conservation Commission in St. Petersburg She is also the director of the FWC Center for Red Tide Research.

Hubbard said his team, along with the University of South Florida and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, are trying to forecast this year’s situation.

“For this year, we’re hoping for a short bloom – that’s what we always hope for. No bloom would be welcome,” Hubbard said. “But as far as where we are in the conditions, we’re still in the window where we could see something pop up pretty much anytime.”

Over the next few months, scientists will monitor the looping Gulf of Mexico current, which can uplift nutrients from the continental shelf to coastal waters. Nutrients feed the red tide microorganism Karenia brevis, which can lead to high concentrations that are considered bloom levels.

They will also be on the lookout for any changes in the water caused by temperature drops in the fall, as well as any tropical activity. These and many other factors can fuel or suppress efflorescence.

But based on what researchers are seeing now, Hubbard said that’s not likely in the near future.

“We’re crossing our fingers that we have a little more time to prepare,” Hubbard said. “There was a year in the recent past, 2010, where we didn’t have a lot of red tide. We didn’t reach bloom levels. And so it can happen where we have years where there is no flowering at all.

During routine sampling in the gulf, researchers recently noticed high spikes in chlorophyll, raising fears of the formation of red tide blooms.

But upon closer examination, scientists determined it was a different type of microalgae. Hubbard said most algae are actually good for our ecosystems.

“They’re important as photo synthesizers to produce the air we breathe, and then also as the basis of the marine food web,” Hubbard said.

But red tide blooms are a different story: They kill marine life, shut down local tourism and cause respiratory irritation — even neurological impacts — in some people, according to a recent study.

This time last year, the Gulf was experiencing a continued bloom from the previous season.

There were a few different anomalies in 2021 that are still being investigated, Hubbard said. This includes the Piney Point spill, in which more than 200 gallons of nutrient-rich sewage was dumped from the old Manatee County phosphate mill in Tampa Bay due to a leaking tank threatening the area. neighbor.

Hubbard also pointed to some tropical activity.

“Some of the tropical storms that passed through probably helped move the red tide. What we don’t fully know is if there was a second event that started around the same time of the month. year,” Hubbard said.

It’s unclear at this time if the year-long event, which began in December 2020, was due to one or two bloom events, Hubbard said. And there are parallels between this event and the one in 2018, which lasted more than a year.

“We also had a decent amount of storm activity which seemed like a coincidence, when things were moving, especially towards the Panhandle. It happened both years,” Hubbard said.

“And so that’s a parallel that we’d like to look at more simply in terms of thinking about whether we really have the same bloom moving around, or if it’s potentially different blooms and different initiation events. , really, that we’re watching when they extend that long.”

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