Center for Red Tide Tracking and Forecasting
Blooms of the toxic dinoflagellate, Karenia brevis, lead to red tides in coastal waters along the Gulf of Mexico. The greatest impacts of Florida red tides, which are a type of harmful algal bloom (HAB), occur on the West Florida Shelf. Toxins produced by K. brevis, called brevetoxins, can kill fish, negatively affect other kinds of marine life, and cause respiratory distress in humans. Depending upon the severity and length of the bloom, these impacts can ultimately lead to substantial economic losses in our coastal communities.
In the Gulf of Mexico, a suite of observational and modeling approaches is necessary for advancing our knowledge of K. brevis bloom dynamics. Scientists have hypothesized that blooms originate offshore, but the exact location and timing of bloom manifestation in coastal waters varies from year to year. The scope and scale of recent HAB events have highlighted gaps in our ability to detect, respond to, and forecast K. brevis blooms and their impacts.
Currently, red tide predictions rely primarily on models of ocean circulation. The overarching hypothesis is that ocean currents are a primary driver of key bloom dynamics since they provide a mechanism for transporting cells. Currents also control the flux of oceanic nutrients onto the West Florida Shelf. Although advection by currents is clearly an important factor for bloom hindcasting and forecasting, other factors are likely important for cell growth and loss.
A primary goal of our five-year, collaborative program (2020-2025) is to incorporate these additional factors into conceptual and quantitative ecological models with time series data. Only then can we explore different and potentially interactive drivers of bloom initiation, severity, and/or termination. We aim to develop new interdisciplinary approaches to tracking and forecasting red tides on the West Florida Shelf that will include integration of more comprehensive, interdisciplinary observational data streams and models.
New Interdisciplinary Approaches to Red Tide Tracking and Forecasting on the West Florida Shelf is funded by the State of Florida through FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI).
Karenia brevis (scanning electron micrograph)
Karenia brevis is a single-cell organism belonging to a group of algae called dinoflagellates. Karenia brevis is known as the Florida red tide organism. In large numbers, it causes red tide along Florida’s coastline. Karenia brevis can be found in Gulf waters any time of the year, but most commonly in the fall. Large concentrations of these cells, called blooms, can discolor water red to brown. Karenia brevis produces a neurotoxin that can kill fish and other marine life, make shellfish toxic for human consumption, and cause respiratory irritation in humans who breathe the aerosols released by the cells when they break open. Photo credit Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.