A Joint Attack on Red Tide

USF College of Marine Science is working with scientists in Mexico to study the toxic algae, track its migration.


Inia Soto of USF and Carlos Poot of Centro de Estudios Tecnologicos del Mar prepare instruments on board a ship off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.


By Vickie Chachere

USF News


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.  (Feb. 13, 2012) – The Gulf of Mexico’s battle with red tide has gone binational.


A cooperative effort between the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science and scientists in Mexico has united scientists in studying red tide, the toxic Karenia brevis algae which can cause major health problems and wreak economic havoc on beach communities all along the Gulf shores.


The new effort has united scientists on either side of the Gulf and is producing more accurate tracking of red tide. It signals a new era of scientific cooperation between states and nations who share a common dependency on the Gulf, say researchers at USF’s College of Marine Science.


More than 100 scientists from both the U.S. and Mexico are now working together under the U.S. Mexico bi-national Harmful Algal Blooms Observing System, organized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Gulf of Mexico Large Marine Ecosystem program, writes USF graduate student Inia Soto in the new edition of EOS Transactions. Soto is a member of the USF team participating in the joint project, including Biological Oceanographer Frank Muller-Karger, Optical Oceanographer Chuanmin Hu and research staff members Jennifer Cannizzaro and Jennifer Wolny.


The bi-national collaboration began several years ago with a series of meetings and workshops which helped build communication between scientists from both nations, Soto said. This past fall, the scientists were able to coordinate an effort to sample a red tide bloom off the coast of the Mexican state of Campeche. Satellite imagery was used to track the bloom and decide on a sampling strategy.


“We are hoping to collaborate during future field campaigns and continue doing research on the topic of harmful algal blooms as well as other important issues in marine science that affect both countries,” Soto said. “The data gathered as part of this collaboration will help improve the algorithms and models for harmful algal bloom which we use to detect and monitor these blooms using cameras mounted on satellites orbiting the Earth. These models then help to minimize the impacts of harmful algal blooms on human health and coastal economies.”


U.S. and Mexican scientists are now working closely to collect field data on red tides, which help calibrate the NASA and NOAA satellite cameras used to detect the algal outbreaks. Mexico also has installed ground stations to receive data from U.S. environmental satellites to create maps of these harmful algae blooms, Muller-Karger said.


With more binational collaboration, the hope is the effort will produce more research cruises involving both nations and scholar exchange programs, Muller-Karger said. He called the effort a “very large step for both nations toward sharing new science to protect the health and the economy of coastal communities of the Gulf of Mexico.”


“The binational effort directly supports their coastal economy. We are happy to work with good neighbors in a very interesting science program that also has important social and economic results for both of our countries.


To read the EOS journal article, click here.


For more information on USF’s Institute for Remote Sensing, click here.


Vickie Chachere can be reached at 813-974-6251.