New experiment could improve red tide situation near Tampa Bay

Published: July 20, 2021 4:27 PM EDT
Updated: July 20, 2021 7:23 PM EDT

Red tide is seeming to stick around in Tampa Bay area and some is making its way down to Southwest Florida. Luckily, help could be on the way with new and promising experiments.

To perform one of the experiments, scientists make a mixture of clay and seawater and spray it on the surface of the water. From there, the combination can absorb red tide cells and toxins.

From a beer by-product to a clay-based solution, scientists are exploring a whole host of new technologies to work in tandem to fight against red tide. Dr. Micahel P. Crobsy is president and CEO of Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium.

“We are looking at everything, to try to come up with technologies that will, in fact, be successful in the future,” said Crosby.

“The legislature and the governor both agreed that there needed to be a commitment of funds for six years and that is the Red Tide Mitigation Technology Development Initiative,” Crosby said.

Mote Marine Lab, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) and the University of Central Florida are working together on a clay mitigation project. An outbreak near the Sarasota area created the perfect opportunity to test one of the new technologies.

Dr. Don Anderson is a senior scientist at WHOI Biology department. “The clay particles aggregate with each other. They also aggregate with the red tide cells that sometimes kills the red tide cells, but often also just carries them down to the bottom,” Anderson said.

In this pilot project scientists tried in a Sarasota canal, they say that the bottom of the water won’t be carpeted in clay.

Red Tide map 7.20
Credit: WINK Weather

“The amount to be used is, one way to think of it, think of a card table, that’s about a square meter, maybe a square yard, and take maybe three sugar packets, and sprinkle that material over that table,” said Anderson.

While the scientists would like to address the issues that can fuel red tide, they are currently focused on the ways to combat it in the short term.

“Do you want to have some technologies that can be used in people’s backyards, or on beaches and so forth, that’s environmentally acceptable? The same way that many people are willing to accept mosquito spraying or spraying for pests,” said Anderson.

“Our ultimate goal is to be able to decrease the impacts of the red tide, even before they are felt so that we’re not responsive but being more proactive,” said Crosby.

It will take years to recreate this project on a larger scale. While the method will make surface waters cleaner and safer, scientists will monitor any effects it has on marine life at the bottom. So far, they say the results look good and the creatures tolerate the clay.

“It works out to be something like 1,000th of an inch of a deposition. It’s tiny, and that’s the amount of clay we can apply on the surface waters to remove these red tide cells,” said Anderson.

“We are still reducing the data, trying to look at it, but it’s safe to say that yes, the amount of clay that we used, which was in that same range that I described, very small amount, removed a very significant portion of the red tide,” Anderson said.

More than a dozen groups are calling for Governor Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency for the red tide in the Tampa Bay area. Advocates say a declaration would help with relief efforts related to environmental and economic damage.