Mote is supposed to have a product by October that will knock back red tide and get rid of it in certain places.
When a red tide bloom explodes in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s hard to fight on a battlefield measured in hundreds of square miles.
Still, Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium is developing ways to combat red tide, first experimenting with possible solutions on smaller sites, then investigating how well they can be scaled. Earlier this year, the Red Tide Institute at Mote Marine Laboratory was launched with the purpose of researching and developing technologies for controlling and mitigating red tide effects.
Also, scientists are wary of the unintended consequences of a solution that might kill more than just red tide cells.
When the 2018 bloom persisted, Mote made strides with a treatment based on ozone application — a concept patented more than a decade ago, Mote Associate Vice President for Research Richard Pierce said. The caveat with ozone, however, is that it’s a toxic chemical that will kill whatever is near it, which is why it’s used in confined areas right now.
“Ozone could be used to restore a severely impacted body of water back to natural conditions where marine life could come back in, but if you have a severe bloom in the bay right outside a canal, that’s just going to come in, so you have to be careful when and where you use it,” Pierce said.
Scientists tested ozone in a red-tide infected swimming pool and within 12 hours, one unit cleared up 25,000 gallons. They further tested the application in a confined canal, cut off from open water with a barrier curtain. After four days, Pierce said that demonstration, too, was successful, but the hurdle of unintended damage to nearby life is still in front of researchers.
While Pierce couldn’t share the exact tools and research Mote is looking to develop through the Red Tide Institute, he said it is working with algaecides and surface materials to break up a bloom. He said he hopes to have something new to try by late this year, though he wouldn’t discuss specifics.
Among the more promising technologies is a simple substance: clay.
Pierce said clay will act like a net as it settles through the water column, absorbing red tide organism cells as it sinks to the bottom.
“Research that we’ve done also shows clay also absorbs the toxins and pulls them out of the water,” Pierce said.
Still to be determined in Mote’s clay research: what happens to the red tide cells once dragged to the bottom.
And, getting the formula of clay just right is tricky. Research with clay completed in the early 2000s in Sarasota Bay drew fierce opposition from environmentalists over possible effects on other life nearby.
In addition, any product would have to meet the water quality standard set by the Department of Environmental Protection, Pierce said.
The products that pass those questions are then moved to outdoor tests, like a swimming pool or 55-gallon drum. Once there, scientists can then see how the products would affect other organisms and how it ecologically proceeds.
Once products pass that stage, Mote staff would obtain permits or permission from various government departments and the Army Corps of Engineers for field applications and monitor the product’s effects in the real world.
In addition to this testing, Mote has placed sensors near New Pass and in Sanibel near a canal that comes out from the Caloosahatchee River. These instruments can detect the presence of red tide and measure the water quality. They can also identify phytoplankton, for red tide is part of the phytoplankton community.
These instruments will be a key to understanding when red tide is starting.
“We need to have sensors when there is no red tide to know what the conditions are and as red tide is beginning there what are what various conditions. ...” Pierce said.
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