In order to better understand red tide and what causes it, the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission are teaming up to research the phenomenon.
Every month, volunteers with the CBA will collect samples from seven sites in the Choctawhatchee Bay and send them to the FWC Research Institute, where they will be tested for red tide.
“We had already been working with the FWC Research Institute to collect samples that they were then processing and reporting to their website for red tide monitoring,” said Brandy Foley, monitoring coordinator for the CBA. “We decided it would be beneficial for everyone to have some sort of data on red tide in this area for the long term instead of just on incidental fish kills.”
Foley said there were some issues with red tide in the gulf right before Hurricane Michael. But after the storm is when the CBA started to see fish kills happen in the bay.
“I’m not sure if this is true or not, but I feel like once Michael blew in, it kind of pushed in some of that red algae into the bay and then we were seeing fish kills,” Foley said. “We just wanna have more information on the red tide or if it even is red tide that’s killing the fish.”
The results from the testing right after Hurricane Michael showed mixed results that neither confirmed or denied that red tide was the culprit for the fish kills. Other factors, such as low dissolved oxygen, can also cause fish to die.
“I feel like what we saw last fall was the largest fish kill that (I’ve) seen in the bay, but we’re not sure if it was directly caused by red tide,” Foley said.
Red tide is the name given to high concentrations of the harmful marine algae Karenia brevis. It can deplete oxygen in the water and irritate people’s noses, throats and eyes. Little is known about what causes the algae to bloom.
Foley said the algae initially blooms in the Gulf of Mexico near Southwest Florida and follows the tide up the west coast. But what baffled researchers about the most recent red tide problem in Northwest Florida is that it seemed to be an isolated event.
“They didn’t see it in the Big Bend area (Tallahassee) last fall, so it seemed to be more isolated to this northwest region,” Foley said. “We’re just trying to figure out when it’s occurring and what’s causing it and we’re doing that in partnership with the FWCRI because they’re processing all the samples.”
Once the FWCRI receives the water samples and performs the testing, the results will be posted on an interactive map on their website, www.myfwc.com