Red tide outbreak spawns demand for more research

Leaders wondering how blooms can be slowed down


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Red tide continues to spread along Florida’s west coast.

At least four counties in the Panhandle are reporting the algae blooms.

The crisis has Gov. Rick Scott ordering a resumption of research into the cause and possible solutions. 

Red tide has been known to exist for hundreds of years, but scientists still don’t know enough about it.

“The funding for basic research questions is just minimal," said Dr. Sven Kranz, an oceanography professor at Florida State University. 

Kranz says in recent years the blooms have become more frequent and last longer, but since 2013 the state has essentially stopped all research on red tide.

“To understand an outbreak of Karenia brevis like the one we've had the last year, basically we do need more research," Kranz said.

Southwest Florida is suffering from a nearly year-long bloom.

New blooms are also appearing in the Panhandle.

Now, Scott says the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will resume working with researchers to find ways to quell the algae.

However, environmental groups say Scott's orders aren't dealing with  pollution and agricultural runoff, which they believe is the root problem.

“It's a result of continued lack of regulation and control," said Alisa Coe, an attorney with the Florida Office of Earth Justice.

Red tide algae is caused by high nutrient levels in water. 

Like in a fish tank, the more nutrients added either from natural sources or through fertilizers or animal waste, the more algae -unless you have enough plants to consume the nutrients first.

It’s the reason why environmental groups are asking the courts to make funds for land acquisition available immediately.

“We need to start the projects that would capture the water and treat it," said Coe.

They say it could be used to purchase lands south of Lake Okeechobee, where water could be expelled and filtered through the plant-rich Everglades.

A lower court sided with environmentalists earlier this year and ordered the Legislature to fully fund the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.

The state appealed, putting a hold on the ruling and preventing the funds from becoming available.

Scientists agree agricultural runoff plays a role in maintaining longer blooms, but they say other factors, such as hurricanes and natural processes, still need more investigating.