The Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) research group maintains its historical role of event response while expanding routine sampling with a network of collaborators and volunteers.
HAB staff at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) in St. Petersburg respond to possible harmful algal bloom events in water bodies throughout Florida, as well as some neighboring states along Gulf and Atlantic waters. The need to collect water samples from affected areas may arise from reports of discolored water, respiratory irritation, fish kills, and dead or stranded marine mammals.
To respond promptly, HAB scientists frequently tap into the same network of collaborators that they rely on for routine HAB monitoring: federal and state agencies, county and city departments, and the Red Tide Offshore Monitoring Program volunteers. Figure 1 (data from 2010) depicts just how valuable FWRI colleagues are in supporting the event response program. The HAB group is also fortunate to have many FWRI field labs throughout Florida that assist year-round with water sampling.
Figure 1. 2010 Map of water collection sites for phytoplankton analysis.
Harmful algal blooms of many species occur seasonally in parts of Florida. Their extent and duration are highly variable and difficult to predict, and so event response differs greatly from year to year, as Figure 2 illustrates.
Figure 2:. Water samples received for phytoplankton analysis for 2004-2010
(Water collections were not tracked by the specific HAB monitoring program until 2004).
For example, blooms of Karenia brevis--the Florida red tide organism--can last a few weeks or more than a year. A widespread die-off of fish and other marine life in the summer of 2005 resulted in a significant increase in sample collection that year and into the next. HAB scientists cooperated with other FWC research groups, analyzing water samples to help the corals and fisheries groups determine the bloom's impact on reefs and fish populations off the southwest coast.
HAB scientists also assist other state and federal agencies in responding to events, some of which are not bloom-related. In April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, raising serious concerns about the health of the Gulf ecosystem. HAB staff assisted in assessing water quality and phytoplankton biomass in the affected regions. With FWRI's partners at the University of South Florida's College of Marine Science and other interested agencies, HAB scientists also participated in research cruises aboard the R.V. Weatherbird. The event response map for 2010 (Figure 3) reflects these efforts.
Figure 3. Red Triangle: samples collected and submitted by FWRI's
state partners. Green Triangle: samples collected by FWC/FWRI staff.
White Squares: samples collected by volunteer network.
The HAB group's event response is not limited to marine environments. Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, commonly bloom in Florida's freshwater lakes and rivers, especially in warm, sunny months. Figure 3 shows the sampling effort in the St. Johns River in response to reported fish kills in 2010. The HAB group works to identify algae species and determine whether they are toxin producers to establish the possible ecosystem and health impacts of a bloom.
HAB scientists recruit partners and collaborators throughout Florida to help with event response and routine monitoring. While many agencies, environmental groups, and private citizens have responded, coverage is still sparse in many regions in the state.
A HAB research scientist collects water offshore of Florida's Panhandle.
Red Tide and the 2005 Offshore Fish Kills
Volunteer to Help Monitor Harmful Algal Blooms