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FWC/FWRI-Mote Cooperative Red Tide Program

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It takes a team to monitor red tide in Florida’s coastal waters! The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) and Mote Marine Laboratory work together to monitor Karenia brevis, the organism that causes most red tides along Florida’s southwest coast. Through this cooperative program, scientists conduct monitoring and provide up-to-date information to the public.

Routine and Event-Response Monitoring
Researchers at FWRI coordinate routine and event-response water sampling with state agencies, local governments, and participants in a volunteer program. Mote Marine Lab fills valuable sampling gaps by monitoring coastal waters from Tampa Bay south to San Carlos Bay, as well as in the Florida Keys – the latter led by Mote’s field lab in Summerland Key.  Mote researchers routinely analyze water samples collected through the Florida Healthy Beaches program, as well as other water quality programs led by Sarasota County. The team also has a long-running data set for daily K. brevis cell abundance at two locations: New Pass Dock and Bay Dock in Sarasota. Additional monitoring during pre-bloom and bloom seasons is accomplished through offshore research trips, some of which are conducted jointly with FWRI. During these cruises, water is analyzed for red tide abundance, nutrient concentrations, and phytoplankton community composition. These samples often provide the first indicators of blooms.  All K. brevis data that Mote collects is included in FWC’s weekly Red Tide Status Reports.   


Mote’s Ocean Technology Program maintains the Southern Operations Coastal Ocean Observing Laboratory (SO-COOL), which provides complementary information to the monitoring efforts described above. Through So-COOL, Mote operates autonomous underwater vehicles, or gliders, to monitor red tides offshore. Some of the gliders carry unique instrumentation developed at Mote, such as the Optical Phytoplankton Discriminator or OPD. The OPD detects the optical signature of Karenia brevis, as well as other phytoplankton species, allowing detection of red tides at depth. Mote researchers also deploy OPDs from several docks in southwest Florida to collect continuous data and serve as sentinels for red tide. All OPD data are available at Mote Marine Laboratory’s SoCOOL website. During blooms, researchers at FWRI integrate glider data, cell abundance data and satellite images to paint a complete picture of blooms.  In addition, the Beach Conditions Reporting System (BCRS) provides the public with twice daily assessments of red-tide related beach conditions, such as dead fish, discolored water, or respiratory irritation in beachgoers. The BCRS relies on a network of trained lifeguards who report beach conditions through a smartphone app that immediately uploads the information to the public BCRS website. Scientists gather this alternative research from 28 stations in nine counties.

Outreach and Education
FWRI and Mote disseminate up-to-date information on blooms to numerous stakeholders, including local county and state agencies, visitor bureaus, the Florida Department of Health, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the media, and the public. Information is also shared through a joint Facebook page, Florida Red Tide and other Harmful Algal Blooms. A unique outreach strategy of the FWC/FWRI-MOTE Cooperative Red Tide relies on a partnership with the Ringling College of Art and Design, through which undergraduate students develop creative, multimedia outreach and education products.