Red tide under microscope at Sarasota symposium

rdymond@bradenton.comOctober 28, 2013 

Florida red tide cells. PROVIDED PHOTO

MANATEE -- Clearwater Pass, Redington Pier, the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier, Anna Maria Island and Palma Sola Bay are all geographically close yet scientists have noted surprising differences about the five locales when it comes to algae blooms.

A sampling of algae at the five spots during an ongoing harmful bloom-monitoring project in 2012 by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission showed each had vastly different concentrations of the major groups of phytoplankton including diatoms, dinoflagellates and other flagellates. The concentrations can combine for toxic stews known as red tide.

The algae on Anna Maria Island, for example, was 80 percent dinoflagellates, 18 percent diatoms and 2 percent other flagellates.

The nearby Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier was 86 percent other flagellates, 8 percent diatoms and 8 percent dinoflagellates.

How can geographic differences of a few mere miles influence the presence of different phytoplankton that drastically? This question

and many others will occupy 215 scientists from 31 states Monday through Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Sarasota at the Seventh Symposium on Harmful Algae Blooms in the United States.

"The public just thinks of the ocean as water and all the same, but there are these little communities," said Barbara Kirkpatrick, manager of Mote Marine Laboratory's Environmental Health Program in Sarasota and co-chairwoman of the Symposium. "In Bradenton you have over-55 gated communities and under-55 gated communities. so gated communities are not all the same. Same thing in the ocean."

The highly technical event is generally for scientists only and not open to the public, officials said. But the outcome will potentially affect everyone who lives near the water.

"Researchers from all over the country are coming together to share what they have learned about Florida red tide and other potentially harmful algal blooms," said Nadine Slimak, director of communications at Mote Marine.

Mote Marine researchers have co-authored 22 presentations scheduled at the symposium.

The poster child for harmful algal blooms, commonly known to scientists as HABs, is Florida red tide, (scientific name Karenia brevis.) Red tide is caused along coastal areas when a few species of dinoflagellates, which are aquatic micro-organisms, bloom in giant concentrations.

Not all Florida red tides produce harmful toxins, but when they do the results can be devastating for humans and animals, Kirkpatrick said. "It can result in massive fish kills, the death of marine mammals and sea birds," Kirkpatrick said. "It can have respiratory effects on humans, especially those with asthma and other chronic respiratory conditions and neurotoxic shellfish poisoning."

Why some of these episodes are harmful and some are not remains a scientific mystery. For the record, the concentration of Florida red tide during the Symposium is "not present to low," according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website.

"One of the things about science is that exchange back and forth between researchers is essential," Slimak said. "A symposium gets researchers from different disciplines talking to each other and scientific inroads can be made."

The symposium will address bloom ecology and toxicity, prevention, control and mitigation, monitoring and management, forecasting and impacts on humans, including health and fisheries.

"We would like the community to know that the goal of the meetings is to learn from each other so that maybe there is someone in the Pacific Northwest who is using a new instrument and we can use his or her new ideas to strengthen what we do in our Southwest Florida waters."

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond

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