Air sampling for red tide toxins

This a real serious issue when you consider that drinking water supplies are within a mile of the beaches.


Mote Marine Laboratory scientists and the Florida Department of Health are now taking air samples 8-10 miles from Sarasota County beaches to measure how far inland Florida red tide toxins travel.

The study will be expanded to surrounding counties, including possibly Manatee County, depending on where red tide is prevalent, Mote Ecotoxicology Program Manager and Senior Scientist Dr. Richard Pierce said.

Previous studies show that the neurotoxin from Florida red tide, called brevetoxin, can travel inland as far as 2.6 miles from the coast. But people have reported experiencing respiratory irritation even further from shore during the current bloom, which the new study will test.

“In this new effort, we will place air sampling instruments in a transect that reaches further inland than previous studies have covered, to see what concentrations of brevetoxins, if any, are traveling the distances at which these effects are being reported,” Pierce said.

Mote scientists are using 12 air samplers, deployed 6-12 hours at a time, that pull air through filters to collect aerosolized toxins for later analysis at the Sarasota lab.

Pierce said a written report will be presented to local health officials when the study is completed to provide improved public information to those sensitive to the toxins, particularly people with chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma.

Other red tide research

  • Researchers at Mote and the University of South Florida College of Marine Science also are using underwater gliders to collect data that can help scientists locate red tide blooms.
  • USF researcher Dr. John Paul has developed a red tide Tricorder that tests water samples for the algae. The hand-held device, named for a fictional Star Trek scientific instrument, tests for red tide in the field, saving the time needed to return to the lab and expediting local government decisions on closing beaches and shellfish harvesting beds.
  • Mote also is experimenting with clay and ozone to remove Karenia brevis algae from water.


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