Update from the Gulf of Mexico on Harmful Algal Blooms

December 15, 2021
Sophia Ahn, PhD student, analyzes samples for the presence of Karenia brevis, a harmful algae that causes red tide.

Professor Pat Glibert, along with her students Sophia Ahn and Bruna Sobrinho, recently returned from a research cruise in the Gulf of Mexico on the R/V Weatherbird II (University of South Florida). With a goal of understanding why the most recent red tide bloom dissipated, they collected samples from the southern western tip of Florida to the Panhandle during their 10 days at sea. The red tide bloom of the past year was one of the most massive in recent history, impacting the entire west coast of Florida for more than a year with the toxic dinoflagellate Karenia brevis that discolors water, causes fish kills and affects beach goers by the production of aerosols that can cause respiratory distress. During the summer of 2021, hundreds of tons of dead fish and other marine life washed ashore.

Bruna Sobrinho, HPL PhD student, on deck of R/V Weatherbird ll off loading samples to measure the harmful algae Karenia brevis during the Gulf of Mexico cruise to study red tide.

With collaborators from the Mote Marine Laboratory (Sarasota, FL), the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (St. Petersburg, FL), the Bigelow Laboratory (Maine), and New York University Abu Dhabi, samples were collected to study the environmental factors contributing to red tide blooms, as well as co-occurring microbes in the sea. Their findings will ultimately be incorporated into a predictive model of Karenia brevis. “One of things we are going to be doing is to develop the next generation predictive model of the blooms,” said Glibert. “We want to be able to not only understand the biology of the organisms but to better predict when and where blooms will occur, and the driving factors that lead to blooms.”

This work is supported by a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to study the role of extreme weather events and timing of harmful algal blooms, or red tide, in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.