Water experts keeping eyes on Gulf for red tide potential

Eyes in the sky are giving us a better idea of what’s going on in the Gulf in relation to red tide activity. The area we need to watch is off Lee and Charlotte counties. It’s a little early for that, but we have seen some signs of water woes. We saw these disoriented birds on Fort Myers Beach last week.

CROW Clinic on Sanibel told us its bird patients are being affected by red tide toxins.

Something is building up off southern Lee County’s coast, and people, including Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani, are keeping a close eye on it.

“Satellite imagery really helps us understand the spatial scope of some of these blooms that are occurring,” Cassani said.

Satellite imagery from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows patches of high chlorophyll off our coast.

“Chlorophyll is an indicator of the concentration of phytoplankton, which would be the single-celled algae that are floating around in the water,” FGCU professor Mike Parsons said.

When scientists look at these colorful patches, they can be a sign of something else in the water. It’s very high chlorophyll with characteristics of karenia brevis (red tide).

“We’re not necessarily seeing it on the beaches,” Parson said. “The satellite, according to the algorithms, those mathematical equations, is saying that the conditions or the data suggest that it is present offshore.”

“Unless you go out there and sample the water, you don’t know exactly what kind of algae necessarily is causing the bloom,” Cassani said.

Parsons told us he has a group who collected offshore water samples last weekend. If they find red tide in the samples, it would confirm the satellite imagery we’re seeing.

If there are signs of red tide offshore, it can still make its way into the food chain.

“You start to see birds and other animals that eat the fish lower in the food chain start to show signs,” Cassani said.

Reporter:Stephanie Byrne
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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