Science News

No major red tide outbreaks on Florida’s west coast, scientists say

New scientific models predict the west coast of Florida will remain free of red tide outbreaks this summer and fall.

Scientists with the University of South Florida College of Marine Science and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission designed two simulations. One to explore the role of ocean currents and circulations on the concentration of nutrients in the Gulf of Mexico, and another to explore the effects of those nutrients on algal blooms.

Their research — detailed in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans — suggests the Gulf’s current collection of nutrients favors microorganisms other than those associated with red tides.

Red tides are algal blooms featuring the species Karenia brevis, which leaches toxins into local marine food chains and surrounding environment. Its presence can kill thousands of fish and other marine species, doing millions of dollars in environmental and economic damage. When aerosolized by crashing waves on the coast, the toxins can even cause respiratory problems in humans.

Though red tides are a natural occurrence in the Gulf, researchers say better predicting when and where the phenomenon will occur can help officials minimize the damage.

“This recently published research provides the basis for understanding why portions of the west Florida coastal ocean may at times be either nutrient-rich, or nutrient-deficient,” said Robert Weisberg, a professor of physical oceanography at USF, said in a news release.

“When nutrient-rich conditions occur in the red tide formative region other non-toxic algae are favored, thereby suppressing red tide bloom development,” Weisberg added. “Conversely, nutrient-deficient conditions there favor the development of red tide blooms.”