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Tampa Bay Red Tide Study focused on nutrients gets financial backing

Scientists studying how to reduce nutrients that fuel algae blooms in Tampa Bay will soon begin collecting data, and they now have funding to help finance their research.

Members of University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences have been partnering with Mote Marine Laboratory for months to prepare their study on nitrogen in rainwater, storm water and wastewater effluent. The goal is to eventually determine which sources are feeding toxic red tide algae blooms in Tampa Bay over the span of two dry seasons and two wet seasons.

Mary Lusk, assistant professor in the Soil and Water Sciences Department at UF, said she thinks this study will help to mitigate harmful algae blooms in the bay.

“Anything that gives us more information about where these nutrients, primarily nitrogen, is coming from, anything that gives us more information about Karenia brevis physiology and growth and how it responds to different sources of nutrients in the urban environment, anything that gives us more knowledge and understanding on that is one step closer,” she said.

The UF team, including PhD student Amanda Muni-Morgan — who's also behind this initiative — will have the responsibility of monitoring storm activity to collect rainfall and storm-water runoff from the streets and sidewalks to analyze at a lab for nitrogen and phosphorous.

Mote will then use those samples to examine nearshore nutrient sources, and the role that they're playing in expanding summer blooms, like the super bloom in Tampa Bay this summer.

“Mary's group are the storm chasers. We're kind of the bloom chasers,” said Cynthia Heil, senior researcher at Mote and director of the Red Tide Institute.

“From a prior study, we know that there's over 13, possibly 14 now if you add Piney Point, nutrient sources for red tides,” she said. “These near-shore inputs are one of them. This is the next step in starting to look a little more closely focus on these near-shore nutrients and start to pull them apart.”

A recent grant of $80,000 from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program will expand the project in three ways, Lusk said.