Red Tide Event Response

aerial view of algae bloom

Aerial view of the 2018 red tide bloom in the Gulf of Mexico.

The red tide blooms in Florida this year have gained not only a full response from local and state resources, but a national spotlight from news media across the country. As of this writing, the red tide blooms that have haunted Florida’s coasts for over 13 months have finally began to subside. A few small areas of red tide remain; however, the situation has drastically improved from over the summer. Over 14,000 water samples later, FWRI and FWC continues to respond to and take stock of one of the most severe and widespread blooms of Karenia brevis in recent years.

FWRI's new red tide map updates daily, automatically populating the interactive map with red tide data from the last eight days of sampling. Our new map has been well received by the public and provides valuable data on a more immediate basis than our previous twice-weekly reports. This change illustrates FWRI’s commitment to providing the public with accurate, scientifically-verified data, and responding to public comment and criticism.

FWRI’s Marine Mammal Stranding unit continues to be a crucial component for manatee rescue during these severe red tide blooms. Once a citizen calls in a stranded or distressed manatee to the Wildlife Alert Hotline, Marine Mammal Stranding responds to the incident and, depending on the location in the state, the manatee is then transferred to rehabilitation facilities. Manatees have had heavy losses related to red tide this year – at last count 208 manatees – but the number would be higher if not for the diligent efforts of the Marine Mammal Stranding team. On Dec. 18, three successfully rehabbed manatees that were rescued from red tide were released at Apollo Beach in Tampa Bay, highlighting the success of the rescue program.

The Fish Kill Hotline continues to be a successful program, with concerned citizens reporting over 2,000 individual fish kills in southwest Florida alone. Floridians across the state have assisted FWC in the monitoring of the red tide blooms  through the Red Tide Offshore Monitoring Program and assisting their local governments in fish kill cleanup.

Red tide response from FWRI extends to many levels of the organization, including Communications. In addition to answering inquiries from the public and press, Communications creates products such as infographics, press releases, newsletters, videos and more.

man in airplane looking out window

A research scientist conducts an aerial survey as part of the red tide event response.

In addition to water sampling, FWC conducted flyovers with Law Enforcement aircraft Panther 1 in 5, 7 and 10 mile surveys along Pasco, Pinellas, Manatee and Sarasota counties on Sept. 9, 2018. These observations provided visual confirmation of blooms and provided researchers with visual data on fish kills, manatee mortalities and more. Observations from the 10 mile survey estimated that the bloom extended at least 15 miles offshore in some areas.

Data is also gleaned from the Copernicus satellite program, which observes chlorophyll concentrations in surface waters. Satellite observations are not infallible, however, as cloud cover obscures observation capabilities.

Combining satellite and aircraft observations with extensive water-sampling data can begin to paint an accurate picture of the dynamic red tide blooms. Moore’s law shows us that technology is constantly improving, and so we hope to see increased precision in monitoring capabilities as time progresses. FWC hope to continue to embrace current and emerging technology to help better track, monitor and mitigate red tide blooms in Florida.

View the following Flickr albums for additional information:
2018 Red Tide Event Response
2018 Red Tide Aerial Survey
Red Tide Water Quality Assessment Research Cruise