Southwest Florida experts spotlight water quality, red tide research
Water quality science and solutions took center stage at the Sarasota County Water Quality Summit, which convened local, regional and state leaders in research and management fields on June 5 at Riverview High School in Sarasota County.
Dr. Cindy Heil, Director of the Red Tide Institute at Mote Marine Laboratory, shared decades of research on Florida red tides (blooms of Karenia brevis algae) and the nutrients that can support them, during a panel discussion on water quality science. The panel was moderated by David Shafer, Co-Executive Director of the Science and Environment Council of Southwest Florida, and featured additional speakers Steve Suau, Principal of Progressive Water Resources, Mike Mylett, Interim Director of Sarasota County Public Utilities, and Mary Lusk, Assistant Professor at University of Florida.
“We’ve identified over 13 different sources of nutrients that Florida red tide is capable of using, from when it forms offshore through when it moves to the coast, and we have quantified these sources,” Heil said. “The sources vary with the stage, age and location of a red tide bloom, so at any given time, looking at them is a complex endeavor. Regardless, reducing human-contributed, nearshore nutrients should be implemented for the health of our environment and economy. This might reduce red tide severity locally, but it is not expected to stop red tide entirely.”
Heil explained the possible reasons that Florida red tides naturally tend to form offshore of southwest Florida, more frequently than in other areas of the Gulf of Mexico. Reasons may include suitable habitat — the wide and shallow West Florida Continental Shelf — relatively little competition from other life forms offshore, and the presence of offshore nutrient sources including other life forms that “fix” nitrogen from the air into a form K. brevis can use. When ocean circulation patterns move Florid