Red tide will be a problem again someday. Manatee County wants a ‘playbook’ for next time

As Florida’s Gulf Coast continues to scramble for the solutions and causes of the latest red tide bloom, Manatee County hopes to lead the way with a data-driven “playbook.”

At Tuesday’s county commission meeting, researchers from the University of Central Florida announced their plan to apply for a grant that would allow them to work on a project in Manatee County that analyzes actions that mitigate red tide and actions to take once red tide reappears.

Commissioners unanimously supported a motion to move forward with the grant application.

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“Red tide is going to be returning, so it would be nice to put what we learned in a playbook and go forward,” said Charlie Hunsicker, director of parks and natural resources.

Kristy Lewis said her team at the National Center for Integrated Coastal Research at UCF Coastal chose to work with the county to bring information together in a way that’s clear and accessible for residents, emergency management officials and business owners.

“We thought Manatee County was an incredible place to start a relationship where information is key,” she explained. “There’s all this information, but as a layperson, there’s a lot of information overload.”

In addition to ensuring preparedness for red tide, the project will encompass other natural disasters of unknown duration, such as oil spills and coastal erosion.

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Going forward, a proposal will be presented to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Researchers will find out whether they will be funded in October. The project would receive grant funds in December.

Lewis said the team will focus heavily on building off of Manatee’s GIS structure to provide “near real-time data.” The end result would be a publicly accessible web portal, which has purposefully been nicknamed a“playbook.”

“We deliberately chose the word playbook. In sports, it’s about practicing scenarios and being ready. That’s exactly what this is,” said Nan Summers, the county’s grant coordinator.

In addition to GIS technology, Lewis said her team will collect citizen-driven data concerning their research topics from social media, such as Twitter.

“We will leverage our existing capabilities/partnerships to both collect and analyze Twitter data for specific sentiments about the Florida red tide and other coastal concerns across the study area,” according to the researcher’s work plan.

According to UCF Coastal, the study will take place exclusively in Manatee County.

The team will analyze that data in effort to recognize and report “citizen-sensed”data on subjects such as water quality, air quality and other user concerns.

“Even if you don’t think you’re involved, we can use citizen-sourced data to expand and see how the community is reading red tide and any other type of environmental disaster,” Lewis said, referring to public tweets that include a geotagged location.

The information aggregation will also take data into account from NOAA, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Lewis expressed her desire for the project to become a go-to resource for the public. While Manatee will be at the forefront of the research collaboration, she explained that the project will serve the entire state.

“We believe this project will allow us to build a playbook that not only Manatee, but the state of Florida can be proud of,” said Lewis.

As red tide maintains its months-long hold on Manatee waters, commissioners said this project is exactly what Florida counties need in order to educate themselves on the proper measures to take before, during and after a harmful algae bloom hits.

“We’re just starting the process – just like Irma – of learning what to do. We’re getting the right people and procedures in place to combat it because it affects the quality of life out there,” said Commissioner Stephen Jonsson.