The red tide blooms, which began to surface off Florida's west coast around October 2019, seem to have cleared out for now. They caused respiratory irritations for people, and fishkills along the Gulf of Mexico. Health News Florida's Jessica Meszaros spoke with Kate Hubbard, a researcher with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.
MESZAROS: Red tide blooms have pretty much dissipated in the Gulf. Are we in the clear, or is there still a chance toxic blooms could come back?
HUBBARD: Yeah, there is a chance that it could come back, but, in general, the surface conditions have been really conducive for pushing the bloom both offshore into the south-- that's helped kind of keep things away and off of the coast and then also dissipated offshore. But some of those little pockets of cells that we're still seeing, there's always the chance that that could develop further.
MESZAROS: We had a red tide bloom back in 2017 that lasted into 2019. But this past bloom hung around the coast much shorter time. Why is that?
HUBBARD: Well, we've had a few different frontal systems that have moved through. We work really closely with the University of South Florida and we have a tool that inputs our cell count data each day. It allows us to then put it into ocean circulation models, and we can track and predict what the bloom is going to do over the course of four days.
We can use that both looking forward, but then also kind of looking backwards to see what the conditions have been throughout this entire time period. Throughout much of December, they really have been pushing anything that's near shore, further out offshore into the south.
MESZAROS: You mentioned fronts. What fronts do you mean, and how did they affect the red tide bloom outbreak this time around?
HUBBARD: Some of the cold fronts that have moved through recently, they have impacted Florida, but also more extensively other parts of the U.S., and those can help change our local and regional circulation.
MESZAROS: What are you doing now to monitor red tide moving forward?
HUBBARD: Well, we're continuing to increase our offshore monitoring, and we're doing that with a number of different partners. That is to keep an eye again on offshore patches. That's really important for thinking about whether or not a bloom may come back, but also, as we start to wind down from this bloom season, are always preparing for the next one.
Keeping monitoring going year round is really critical to understanding of our bloom dynamics in general: why these blooms happen, why they form, why they go away. So we will continue to maintain our presence in terms of using gliders, autonomous robots, basically that move through the ocean and collect data using sensors.
That gives us information about the conditions that are occurring before the bloom and that can be really helpful for letting us know if there are certain indicators that might help us understand whether the bloom is likely to be severe or not.