SARASOTA , Fla. - Red Tide targets our beaches, sea life, our breathing and tourism. Now a Mote Marine scientist is trying to unravel another potential cause for the nasty algae bloom. The answer may be at the bottom of Florida’s rivers.
“That’s good mud,” says Dr. Jordon Beckler, staff scientist and Program Manager for Research Technology at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.
Beckler says it’s all in the sediment iron found in Florida’s black river mud. He says it may hold a piece of the puzzle to predicting red tide blooms like the one gripping Sarasota’s waterways since Sept. 19.
The bloom has washed up tons of dead fish, turned the gulf water reddish brown and caused respiratory problems that left beaches desolate and homeowners holding their breath.
Beckler pulled a plastic bag out of a freezer with frozen mud sample from the Caloosahatchee River. He said, “See how fine a grain it is and uniform, very dark. This is pretty good. A lot of iron it's likely where we'll target our efforts.”
Beckler is using a $76,000 grant to help prove his hypothesis.
“What I’m trying to show is another source of iron should be considered, in addition to dust,” says Beckler.
Iron-rich dust from Africa also found in Florida is known to cause a bacteria called trichodesmium to bloom, says Beckler, but he says Florida’s river mud does the same.
He said, “This iron allows trichodesmium to do this cool trick.” According to Beckler, "tricho” turns iron into nitrogen, a key nutrient for red tide blooms.
“When trichodesmium blooms occur, soon after that we could have a Red Tide bloom,” said Beckler.
The Mote scientist will be taking deep mud samples from the Caloosahatchee in Fort Myers next month. He will work with the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, measuring the distribution of iron in sediment by the hour.
Beckler says, “We have two dozen hypotheses. Some have been proven, but there’s no magic formula for what causes red tide."
But if Beckler is right, scientists will be one step closer to predicting the blooms.
Beckler will be doing the first phase of his two-year study Dec. 18-23.