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A new study aims to pinpoint pollution feeding algae blooms in Tampa Bay

The first-of-its kind study is underway to determine what kind of chemicals are being flushed or swept into Tampa Bay, fueling deadly algae blooms and red tide.

Red tide and algae blooms in Tampa Bay get some of the blame for the death of seagrasses that much of the marine chain of life depends on. Now, a different tack is being taken to help clean up the bay.

The two-year study, called the Nutrient Fingerprint Project, is looking to trace where much of the nutrient pollution that fuels algae growth comes from.

"Our study goes a step further, by actually looking for chemical tracers that pass through the human body," said J.P. Brooker, the Florida conservation director for the environmental advocacy group The Ocean Conservancy. "So that's things that we ingest, like caffeine or aspartame. And if we can associate those chemicals with the nitrogen that ultimately forms red tide, we can stand a chance of nipping those nutrients in the bud."

Brooker said they're trying to target sources of pollution, where no one knows where it's coming from. Then, that source can be cleaned up, or stopped entirely. It could be coming from runoff, municipal wastewater systems, agricultural lands or leaky septic systems.

"If we could address even five, 10 percent of the non-point-source discharge of nitrogen into Tampa Bay, we would be able to have significant regrowth of seagrass," Brooker said. "We would have a huge impact on harmful algal events like red tide."

Brooker says the first results from the two-year study are expected in the fall.