Nonprofit is focusing next on clay mitigation experiment, FDEP says
Staff of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) told The Sarasota News Leader this week that a search of the agency’s records found only one example of a permit that it had issued to Mote Marine Laboratory for a test of an ozonation process that Mote patented in 2006 to use in killing red tide.
During the 2018 red tide bloom, “DEP authorized Mote to deploy a small-scale pilot project using its patented ozone treatment system to remove red tide and its toxins from seawater entering Mote Aquarium,” Alexandra Kuchta, FDEP’s press secretary, wrote in a March 22 email.
Last week, as the News Leader reported, a St. Armands Key resident recently began alerting community leaders to a letter he sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis in September 2018, explaining information about the patent that Mote received on Jan. 10, 2006. The resident, Edward G. Rosenblum, had pointed out in that letter, “Fifteen years ago I had lunch with a friend of mine, who then served as Chairman of the Red Tide Committee at Mote Marine in Sarasota. He told me that the science exists to eradicate red tide ‘but probably will never happen.’ Ozone sprayed on the surface of red tide kills it immediately with no harmful releases in the atmosphere or the water. But the ‘environmental experts’ on his committee (Mote Marine officials) blocked the idea out of concern that dead red tide would descend to the sea bed and adversely impact a new ecosystem. That conversation was fifteen years ago.
“Recently,” Rosenblum continued, “a Mote Marine scientist was speaking about ozone treatment of red tide as if it is a recent innovation and, more troubling, announcing that Mote has patented the process. In point of fact Mote was issued the patent for the use of ozone to treat red tide in  …”
FDEP staff was unable to respond to News Leader inquiries about the ozonation process prior to the deadline for the publication’s March 17 issue.
Moreover, the News Leader received no response from Mote’s media contacts when it left them voicemails and sent them emails last week. Neither Kaitlyn Fusco, Mote’s marketing and public relations manager, nor Stephannie Kettle, the nonprofit’s public relations manager, offered any response, not even a “No comment.”
The News Leader also had inquired whether FDEP had received an application for a permit for a test that an unidentified company plans in part of Sarasota Bay. That company has developed an an ozonation process similar to Mote’s.
David Tomasko, executive director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP), explained those testing plans to the News Leader during a March 14 telephone interview.
Kuchta of FDEP added in her March 23 email, “DEP is aware that the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program is working with another entity on a potential project using ozone nanobubble technology, but DEP has not received any applications or support materials for this potential project.”
In a March 7 report on the SBEP website, Tomasko also described the nonprofit’s work with that entity.
“Mote researchers have found that adding ozone to the water can reduce [the red tide algae, Karenia brevis] substantially, with effectiveness varying directly as a function of ozone concentration,” Tomasko pointed out in that article. “For those unfamiliar with ozone, it is an oxygen molecule with an extra oxygen atom attached (O3, vs. O2). We know that ozonation works to reduce red tide, and the great research done by Mote has even given us a range of values over which the technique should work effectively. The problem is, is this finding scalable in a meaningful way? If something does a great job but can only ‘treat’ 100 gallons a day, that’s not likely going to be very useful.”
Tomasko added, “But what if there was a way to do this in the range of 1,000 to 2,000 gallons per minute (gpm)? Is that possible? We don’t know. But we have someone who says he can produce a quarter-scale pilot project that could meet Mote’s ozonation target for red tide mitigation on a mobile platform that can move around in the bay at 5, 10 or even 20 mph. What could produce that volume of water and be able to move around as well? Basically, a jet ski. Can someone create a process to create an oxygenated volume of water at the rate of 1,000 to 2,000 gpm? Don’t know for sure, but they say they can. And they are willing to bring a prototype to Sarasota Bay to test it out. They have asked us to set up a field study to test if this would work …”
When Tomasko spoke with the News Leader last week, he did not identify the company proposing the field test. He did make it clear that SBEP would not pay for such a test and that it planned to make the results public, regardless of what they are. He also expressed excitement about the potential that the ozonation process would work.
The company hopes to undertake the testing within six to eight weeks, Tomasko told the News Leader.
Reports on Mote’s red tide research lack mention of ozone process
A News Leader check of Mote’s own news reports, posted on its website over recent months, found an Aug. 25, 2022 article about red tide mitigation.
Written by Olivia Cameron, it made no mention of the ozonation process or the 2006 patent.
Cameron reported, “On August 11 and 12, , Mote hosted a workshop of over 75 attendees where red tide mitigation scientists, engineers, and government agencies, gathered to review the research being developed, discuss the status and options for deployment technologies, understand the regulatory steps and agencies involved, and plan for intellectual property and commercialization issues that may arise. The Red Tide Initiative is entering its fourth year of six and significant progress is being made on developing Florida red tide mitigation tools and technologies for field testing and implementation, thus the next step is working to move the research products to the marketplace.
“ ‘Mote is uniquely situated to create solutions through applied science, and the Red Tide Initiative is a perfect example, as we’re bringing together scientists, engineers, businesses, academic institutions and federal, state and local government partners to collaboratively develop and commercialize harmful algae bloom mitigation tools and technologies,’ said Dr. Michael P. Crosby, President & CEO of Mote.
“So far under the Red Tide Initiative, Mote has issued four public requests for proposals, reviewed over 100 mitigation technology development proposals, considered well over 200 mitigation concepts, and subcontracted and partnered on a variety of research and regulatory issues with more than 30 different private business, agency and academic partners. The Initiative funding opportunities have been open to any and all interested parties and Mote has received widespread local, state, national and international interest.”
As the News Leader also reported in its March 17 article about the patent, the Florida Red Tide Mitigation & Technology Development Initiative is a partnership between Mote and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
The clay process
Among other information that Kuchta of FDEP provided the News Leader in her March 22 email, she wrote, “DEP is currently reviewing an application from Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium to replicate a different, large-scale red tide mitigation strategy. Mote is proposing [to] use [a] ‘slurry’ of dry clay material mixed with seawater in areas where active [red tide] blooms are occurring to demonstrate whether the clay particles can successfully combine with red tide cells, sinking them to the seafloor. The technology was originally tested on a smaller scale in Sarasota.”
In July 2021, Mote reported on its website that researchers from Mote Marine, the internationally known Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts (WHOI) and the University of Central Florida (UCF) were working on a variety of strategies to “mitigate red tide and decrease the impacts on the environment, economy and quality of life in Florida.”
Then the article explained, “Florida red tides are caused by the overabundance of cells of native species of algae, Karenia brevis. Clay mitigation involves spraying the surface of the water with a slurry of modified clay particles and seawater, and as the dense clay particles sink they combine with red tide cells. This process can kill the cells and also bury them in the sediment on the seafloor.”
The article also noted that a red tide bloom off the Gulf Coast of Florida, which had been “persistent since December 2020,” had “increased in severity in Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay and along the coast from Pasco to Sarasota counties …
“In response to the current bloom event,” the article continued, “researchers [from the above organizations] have come together to rapidly deploy and test the ability of clay dispersal to remove cells and toxins, a mitigation strategy used in other settings around the world to control other types of harmful algae blooms (HABs).”
The News Leader also found a September 2021 report in a University of Central Florida (UCF) publication that said, “Initial testing of the environmental effects of clay flocculation took place in July  through a controlled experiment at Mote Marine Laboratory’s Aquaculture Park in Sarasota, Florida. Researchers recreated the bottom of Sarasota Bay across nine large tanks, complete with sand, seagrass, and invertebrate marine life, such as urchins, clams, and crabs. The algae Karenia brevis was next introduced to create a red tide, followed by application of the clay.”
That article added, “The team will study the data collected to evaluate the toxin levels in organisms exposed to red tide alone and red tide and clay together to determine if the clay reduces toxicity. Also under study is whether toxins are left in seafloor sediments and seawater. The team will next conduct an experiment performed in a natural water body using a contained enclosure called a limnocorral. That stage is expected to begin early next year.”
Most recently, the News Leader learned through online research, WESH-TV in Winter Park reported on March 17 that the Mote/Woods Hole/UCF group had spent four days testing the clay process in its viewership area.
“The research has been going on for four years starting with tiny test tubes, and so far [Kristy Lewis, a UCF assistant professor of marine biology] says there’s been no harm to other organisms,” that report began.
” ‘Our goal is a safe and scalable solution and we do not want it to be harmful to any of the non-target organisms,’ ”Lewis told Gail Paschall-Brown of WESH.
“So how soon can they actually use this concept to fight red tide?” Paschall-Brown asked.
“Lewis said they’re ready now but they’ve got to go through all the proper channels, so she said it will be at least within the next five years,” that report concluded.
In her March 22 email to the News Leader, Kuchta of FDEP also wrote, “The state is taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to respond to the red tide impacting Southwest Florida. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Florida Department of Health are working together to ensure a coordinated state response.
“In addition to engaging with stakeholders and coordinating with local governments to provide resources to assist in their cleanup efforts,” Kuchta continued, “the state is evaluating innovative technology projects that can be deployed immediately to protect Florida’s water quality and public health from future harmful algal blooms (HABs). DEP may also have a role in the permitting of proposed innovative technology projects to mitigate red tide to ensure they will not negatively affect non-target organisms and may require projects be accompanied by water quality monitoring to further assess any potential impacts.”