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‘A Complex Issue With Many Factors,’ Red Tide Is The Focus Of UF Panel This Week

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This is what the red tide bacteria looks like under a microscope. (Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Red tide has disappeared for now from southwest Florida’s coast, but the organizers of a panel this week at the University of Florida believe it’s something of which all Floridians should remain aware.

UF’s Thompson Earth Systems Institute is hosting a panel called “Beyond Dead Fish: How Red Tide Affects All Floridians,” on Friday from 3 to 4 p.m. It will be held at the MacKay Auditorium in Pugh Hall located at 296 Buckman Dr. in Gainesville.

Those who cannot attend the event can watch a live broadcast at http://bit.ly/UFRedTide.

The panel will feature three speakers focusing on specific subjects that red tide affects. Those subjects include the economy, health and the biology of the organism itself, according to Jennifer Bauer, postdoctoral associate with the Thompson Earth Systems Institute.

“The idea is to bring in people who have different perspectives,” Bauer said. “So each of these different viewpoints can kind of contribute to our overall understanding of how red tide affects all Floridians and not just the coastal cities.”

Red tide is the accumulation of a type of algae called dinoflagellates, which has approximately 2,000 species. The toxic species for Florida red tide is called karenia brevis, according to Lisa Krimsky, water resource regional specialized agent at the University of Florida.

Krimsky is one of the panelists speaking at the upcoming event and will focus on the variety of economic impacts that red tide affects in Florida.

Beyond tourism impacts, Krimsky said, there are also impacts to the local community. Impacts such as the cost of cleanup, lack of healthy employees due to respiratory problems and the decline of seafood.

These are just a few of the economic topics Krimsky will discuss.

The biology of the variety of blooms that cause red tide will also be a focus, according to Dail Laughinghouse, assistant professor of applied phycology at the University of Florida.

Besides red tide, Laughinghouse also plans to discuss bacterial blooms and brown tide.

“My goal in this panel is to let people know this is a complex issue with many factors” he said. “I hope they come out understanding a little bit more about this organism.”

In 2018 Florida experienced a severe red tide that lasted approximately 17 months, according to Cynthia Heil, senior scientist and director of the Red Tide Institute at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium.

“That’s why there’s a lot of discussion this year about it,” Heil said, “because last year was so severe.”

Mote is an independent, nonprofit marine research institution that is committed to the conservation and sustainable use of the ocean, according to its website.

Currently, the institution is researching the conditions which determine the severity of red tide, Heil said. There are a variety of influences that cause these severe blooms, such as the ocean’s currents, the biology of the organism and its source of nutrients.

Mote is also researching a variety of techniques to control the red tide when it begins to affect the ocean’s shores.

“There are chemicals and technologies we are working on for circumstances such as canals or beaches that are impacted,” she said. “And what we’ve concluded at this point is there’s really no magic bullet for red tide, in terms of mitigation. These blooms — when they’re in their maintenance sort of stages — they can be literally thousands of kilometers large.”

Although red tide has been an issue for decades, it has been difficult for institutions like Mote to continue research due to lack of funding, according to Heil.

“The problem is the attention,” she said. “There was a lot of focus on it last year, but as soon as the bloom is over, the attention kind of diminishes and goes away. So it’s always been difficult to sustain any sort of funding for research on red tide in Florida. ”

Heil thinks the upcoming panel is a great idea because it allows the public to understand the science behind red tide.

“There’s so much misinformation about red tide, especially after the last bloom that any forum like this, where you can communicate the science, complex science, effectively, is a very good thing,” she said.

About Alex Camargo

Alexandra is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by emailing news@wuft.org or calling 352-392-6397.

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