Mote Deploys Underwater Robot to Monitor Florida Red Tide Bloom

October 5, 2012 - via Mote Marine Laboratory

The yellow, torpedo-shaped robot — also called an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) — will head toward the edge of the bloom to gather valuable information on the bloom’s shape, size and other characteristics. The robot carries a BreveBuster™ — a Mote-designed instrument that detects Florida red tide algae, Karenia brevis.

Waldo was deployed this morning by Mote scientists on a boat several miles offshore of Englewood. During the next two weeks, the robot is programmed to move southward to an area offshore of Boca Grande pass and then head toward the last known edge of the bloom.

Mote is working to gain a better understanding of the bloom’s dynamics along with partners from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) and the University of South Florida (USF). Water samples collected early this week showed low to medium concentrations of red tide algae alongshore of Charlotte and northern Lee Counties. Additional samples have shown lower concentrations elsewhere along Southwest Florida’s coast. Satellite images provided by USF early this week suggested the bloom stretched from Sarasota County to offshore Collier County. New images and results from water samples are expected in the coming days.

Mote’s AUV will monitor 24/7 for the presence of red tide algae, zigzagging up and down the water column to look for the red tide algae beneath the surface where satellites cannot see it. The robot will send its findings to Mote scientists at the Lab each time it surfaces.

“Waldo has a critical job in the team effort to monitor and study this red tide bloom,” said Dr. Gary Kirkpatrick, manager of Mote’s Phytoplankton Ecology Program and creator of the BreveBuster™  that Waldo carries. “The AUV can stay at sea for much longer periods than researchers on a boat, and it can do its job in almost any kind of weather. It’s important to have this kind of continuous monitoring to help ground-truth satellite images and to complement the more detailed information we’re getting from our water samples.”

Mote scientists collected water samples by boat yesterday, Oct. 5, at 18 sites in the bloom area to determine the strength of the bloom and to learn more about other environmental conditions — for instance, what other types of organisms are present — during red tide. They are currently analyzing the samples and will provide results to FWRI for its bi-weekly statewide updates posted here:

Mote researchers expect to continue sampling the bloom area next week and will continue to analyze beach water samples collected by the Sarasota County Health Department. Sampling is part of a red tide response strategy coordinated by FWRI that includes Mote, the local Health Department, USF and other partners in other counties.

Beach Conditions Updates
Mote’s Beach Conditions Report System, which covers 26 beaches along the Gulf Coast, including Sarasota County, has reported moderate and patchy effects of red tide that have varied from day to day — and even from morning to afternoon — throughout this week.

As of this afternoon, Oct. 5, the report showed slight respiratory irritation among beachgoers at Manasota Beach, Venice Beach and Venice North Jetty and no respiratory effects elsewhere in the county. Respiratory impacts were probably minimal because of favorable winds keeping red tide toxins away from shore. Dead fish were also reported at the same three beaches.

Conditions can change quickly, so it is important to continue monitoring the Report, which is updated at about 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily. People with chronic lung conditions are particularly susceptible and should monitor red tide conditions closely.

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Author:Hayley Rutger