A team of scientists from the University of South Florida College of Marine Science embarked on the first research cruise in Tampa Bay dedicated to studying the environmental impacts of the recent breach at a retired fertilizer processing plant at Piney Point in Manatee County, Florida. They were aboard the R/V Weatherbird II, a research vessel that was also used in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response effort led by USF.
The research team, led by USF chemical oceanographer Kristen Buck and biological oceanographer Steve Murawski collected water samples, surface sediments and fish from Tampa Bay and Port Manatee. They will perform a comprehensive suite of analysis to assess salinity, oxygen, pH, carbon, bacteria, phytoplankton, nutrients, trace metals, fish health and more. While some results, such as pH, will be apparent immediately, most will take weeks to months.
“Rapid deployments like this one provide us with an unprecedented opportunity to get out there and provide the science necessary to inform an effective response, as well as any necessary mitigation efforts, so that we can safeguard our vulnerable coastal resources,” said College of Marine Science Dean Tom Frazer.
Among the key questions they want to answer are:
- What happens to water chemistry when wastewater mixes with seawater?
- How do the changes in water chemistry affect marine life?
USF also collected samples for partners from the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Eckerd College and Florida State University. The data collected will be available to support the state of Florida’s effort to address the environmental impacts of the Piney Point reservoir release.