Red Tide Forecasts Move From Amateur To Professional

by SC Associate Publisher/Photographer Chuck Larsen

Kealy McNeal, Marine Educator and Red Tide Sampling Coordinator from the Sanibel Sea School, shows a sample. SC photo by Chuck Larsen

Amateurs have been attempting to measure the red tide levels for many years, but Tuesday, Oct. 29, marked the beginning of a professional approach to benefits all islanders.Residents and visitors who are susceptible to the respiratory impacts of Florida’s red tide, now have a new tool to help them assess what day and time to visit three local beaches.

The Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS) website (habscope.gcoos.org/forecasts) now provides a forecast for red tide impacts on Bowman’s, Lighthouse, and Tarpon beaches. Kealy McNeal, Marine Educator and Red Tide Sampling Coordinator from the Sanibel Sea School, went into the water a meter deep off Lighthouse Beach to collect the first official sample.

She explains that getting the sample takes about five minutes and analyzing with the microscope takes another two minutes. A new device, the HABscope, was designed specially for this purpose. The sample is analyzed by the device that was designed by the team’s engineer. An iPod Touch is connected to the eyepiece of the microscope creating a video. It is then uploaded to GCOOS where a special program, that uses artificial intelligence, automatically identifies Karenia brevis, the cells that cause red tide. These samples and levels will be taken Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays through the season.

McNealy explains, “We’re collecting from three different locations on the island. Based on tides and winds, the conditions are not the same on all three. You can look at this web site and say that Bowman’s Beach may be a better location for me today than lighthouse, for example. It changes every day through the season. I’d use it as a resource.”

Officials on hand to kick off the inaugural test included Dr. Richard Stumpf, National Center for Coastal Ocean Science who led the development of the new forecast tool; Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick, Executive Director of GCOOS, who hoses the respiratory forecast website; Dr. Eric Milbrandt, Marine Lab Director from Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation; Dr. Rick Bartleson, research scientist from SCCF; Kealy McNeal, Marine Educator and Red Tide Sampling Coordinator from the Sanibel Sea School; and Holly Milbrandt from the City of Sanibel.

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