WATCH: How Scientists are Tracking Florida’s Red Tides with Satellites and Smartphones

By  //  September 1, 2018

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Roughly 100 manatees, more than 200 sea turtles and at least 12 dolphins have been killled by red tides

ABOVE VIDEO: Put a sample of water from the Gulf of Mexico under a microscope, and you will often find cells of Karenia brevis swimming around.

(NASA Earth Observatory) – Put a sample of water from the Gulf of Mexico under a microscope, and you will often find cells of Karenia brevis swimming around.

The microscopic algae—the species of phytoplankton responsible for Florida’s worst red tide outbreaks—produce brevetoxin, a compound that in high concentrations can kill wildlife and cause neurological, respiratory, and gastrointestinal issues for people.

Under normal conditions, water quality tests find, at most, a few hundred K. brevis cells per liter of water—not enough to cause problems. But in August 2018, in the midst of one of the most severe red tide outbreaks to hit Florida’s Gulf Coast in a decade, water samples regularly contained more than one million K. brevis cells per liter.

That was enough to stain large swaths of coastal waters shades of green and brownish-red and leave beaches littered with rotting fish carcasses.

Roughly 100 manatees, more than 200 sea turtles, and at least 12 dolphins have been killled by red tides, according to preliminary estimates. For much of August, the toxic bloom stretched about 130 miles (200 kilometers) along Florida’s Gulf coast, from roughly Tampa to Fort Myers.

Though the bloom has been active since October 2017, it intensified rapidly in July 2018. The damage grew so severe and widespread that Florida’s governor declared a state of emergency in mid-August.

One of the best ways to test for the presence of K. brevis is to analyze water samples collected from boats or beaches.

A screenshot from the University of South Florida’s Near Real-Time Integrated Red tide Information System (IRIS). The image shows various types of data captured by MODIS sensor on Terra on August 19, 2018. Solar-stimulated fluorescence data (NFLH) is particularly useful for locating algal blooms. (NASA image)

The Karenia brevis bloom expanded and intensified in late-July. This fluorescence data comes from the OCLI sensor on Sentinel 3. Image courtesy of Rick Stumpf, NOAA. (NASA image)

Karenia brevis cells. (NASA image)

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