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Mote’s shelf survey could help scientists improve red tide forecasts

While the circular rosette balancing six hydraulic tubes lightly breaks the surface of the water, scientists aboard the nearby boat scramble to hoist the machinery on deck.

Soon, they will open the tubes and pour each of the samples, taken at three different water depths, into a labeled container. As the rosette travels through the water, it collects data on temperature, salinity, water cloudiness and other factors that could play a role in the nutrients and organisms present.

The samples will then return to the lab, where scientists will filter and analyze them for particular elements, such as Karenia brevis, the toxic Florida red tide organism. The expedition is part of Mote Marine Laboratory’s shelf survey, a research project conducted every eight weeks at 14 stations within the West Florida Shelf, where scientists believe the red tide bloom originates.

Red tide is infamous for its effect on Florida beaches, marked by a bad smell, dead fish that wash up on shore and serious respiratory irritation in people. The harmful algae’s toxin can kill birds and other animals, including the iconic manatee; an estimated 300 manatees were killed by red tide in 2013.