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USF Marine Science researchers discover ways to improve red tide predictions

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Marine scientists also find reasons why some years for red tide are worse than others.

TAMPA, Fla. (March 31, 2016) – After years of study, University of South Florida College of Marine Science researchers and colleagues have identified reasons why some years are worse than others for the harmful alga bloom (HAB) Karenia brevis, called “red tide,” when it occurs off the west coast of Florida.

In a recently completed study comparing data collected on the 2012 red tide season, which was particularly robust, compared to the 2013 season, which was not, the scientists found that the coastal ocean circulation on the West Florida Continental Shelf - highly dependent on the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current - was a determining factor in the greatly differing red tide occurrences. Their paper describing this research was recently published in the journal Continental Shelf Research.

K. brevis creates a toxin that is threatening to organism health. In years of the worst outbreaks, red tide is responsible for millions of dollars in losses in the shellfish, finfish, recreation and tourism industries. Red tide toxins that end up in the food web can be transferred to other forms of life, from tiny zooplankton to birds, fish, aquatic mammals and humans. Toxins may also be inhaled, causing respiratory distress. While red tide occurs naturally in the Gulf of Mexico, knowing when and where a red tide threat may emerge and how it may evolve along the coast is important. A number of predictive tools are in development to investigate this natural phenomenon, which has both biological and physical dimensions.