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What does the future hold for south Florida beaches? (Copyright G. Nienaber)

The University of South Florida (USF) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissions (FWC) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) announced the establishment of the Center for Prediction of Red Tides (CPR) at the University’s College of Marine Science in St. Petersburg. The center will develop, test and implement models to forecast Florida red tide conditions.

Florida red tides are "natural phenomena" caused by a microscopic organism, “Karenia brevis.“K. brevis” produces a toxin that can kill fish, birds and marine mammals, such as dolphins and manatees, according to the press release  issued by FWC.

Also, it can cause respiratory problems in people.

As a part time resident of South Florida, this writer can tell you that a red tide outbreak can do more than wreck a visit to the shore. Even for healthy people, the hacking cough and respiratory distress will force one to stay indoors with windows tightly closed and the air-conditioner humming.

The bodies of dolphins and sea birds on the beach is a heartbreaking sight, and whether or not this is entirely a “natural” phenomena in its level of severity is still up for discussion.

The Journal of Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology
in July 2003 published a paper (“Harmful algal blooms: causes, impacts and detection”), which argues forcefully that human activities that influence nutrient loads in the world’s oceans can be another culprit.

Algae blooms are increasing in coastal waters around the world, which accounts for the money allocated to study this problem. What is absent is an enforcement of industry, especially commercial farming practices, which increase nutrient loads in waterways.
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A five-year, $1.25 million contract from FWRI will help finance the center that will assist the Florida’s red tide monitoring program. USF is matching the state’s contribution with a $400,000 computer cluster along with staff support for the center.

CPR will combine information from multiple sources including FWRI red tide monitoring data; USF water circulation, temperature, salinity and other information; satellite imagery; and models to develop forecasting capabilities for red tide conditions and impacts.

CPR researchers also use satellite imagery to identify areas of red tide blooms within Florida coastal waters, helping the state target monitoring efforts.

The long-term goal of this collaborative partnership is to create a routine capability to predict Florida red tides and their potential impacts. In the future, biological models that address factors such as bloom growth, when coupled with the physical models and supported by additional observations, will improve the predictability of bloom evolution from beginning to end.

This is a great start, but money spent on enforcement of existing environmental regulations on industry would go a long way towards mitigating red tides and other harmful algae blooms. There is no reason to track it if you can’t stop it. Humans can get out of the way, but wildlife remains vulnerable.
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To learn more about FWRI’s red tide research program, visit


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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota, New Orleans and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill (more...)

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