Mote wins state grant to help shellfish farmers better handle red tide events

Funding comes through Harmful Algal Bloom Grant Program

Mote Marine Laboratory of Sarasota has received a $246,326 grant through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’s Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Grant Program to pursue new research related to red tide, the Commission has announced.

The Mote award was one of three that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) noted in a Nov. 22 news release.

The HAB Grant Program supports projects that address recommendations of the HAB Task Force, the release adds. That task force, which was established in 1999, was “reactivated under the direction of Governor [Ron] DeSantis in 2019,” FWC explains on a webpage. The group is to “play an important role in determining strategies to research, monitor, control and mitigate red tide and other harmful algal blooms in Florida Waters,” the webpage explains.

Red tide is caused by the Karenia brevis algae.

The goal of the Mote initiative is “to develop feasible land-based depuration protocols that allow shellfish farmers in red tide-impacted regions to have the chance to regain their crops and thereby sustain shellfish production,” the release explains.

Depuration is the process of freeing something from impurities.

The United Kingdom’s Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science explains, for example, that shellfish can be purified of toxins if they are placed in tanks of seawater for a minimum of 42 hours.”

Mote’s principal investigator during the grant-funded research will be Dana Wetzel, the release notes, with Tracy Sherwood as co-principal investigator.

Mote’s website says that Wetzel is a senior scientist with a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from Texas A&M University, plus a master’s degree and a doctorate, both in marine science, from the University of South Florida.

The website adds that Sherwood is a staff scientist who earned a doctorate in medical science from the University of South Florida’s College of Medicine. Her primary focus, the website points out, is on developing a procedure for detecting or measuring specific proteins or other substances that scientists could use in detecting biological markers for immunity and fertility in fish and marine mammals.

The red tide project is to begin in January 2023 and conclude in June 2024, FWC said.

The Mote abstract for the undertaking explains, “Red tide devastates shellfish farmers, resulting in millions in lost revenue, jobs, and economic uncertainty. … [T]here are complex procedures for harvesting during a red tide bloom. Farmers cannot harvest or release previously harvested shellfish until they can be tested for red tide toxins using a time-consuming laboratory method. This process often results in long periods [when] no shellfish can be sold.”

The abstract points out that a field biosensor already is being used for farmers to monitor the levels of red tide toxins in shellfish. Wetzel and Sherwood developed that, thanks to funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the State of Florida. Wetzel and Sherwood want to be able to integrate utilization of that sensor “with effective and practical land-based techniques” to rid shellfish of the toxins.

One of the other projects that won funding through the HAB Grant Program proposes to create a Composite Red Tide Vulnerability Index that would assess and communicate the “vulnerability of coastal communities to Red Tide in Florida.” That University of Florida initiative won a grant of $295,304, FWC said.

The third project is focused on developing a “Physical-Biological Model of Karenia brevis” for the West Florida Shelf. Proposed by a researcher at the University of South Florida, that initiative’s long-germ goal is to be able to forecast red tide events, FWC says.

The HAB Grant Program awarded $299,349 to the principal investigator for that undertaking, Yonggang Liu, FWC notes.

Both of those university projects also are to start in January 2023 and conclude in June 2024, FWC says.

Bloom concentrations of red tide still being found in Sarasota County

On Nov. 30, in FWC’s most recent red tide update released prior to the publication of this issue of The Sarasota News Leader, the agency reported that, over the past week, Karenia brevis had been found in bloom concentrations in 26 samples collected in Sarasota County.

To be considered a bloom concentration, more than 100,000 cells of the algae must be present per liter of water collected.

The Nov. 30 update added that bloom concentrations also were found in five samples in and offshore of Lee County, two in and offshore of Collier County, and one in Manatee County.

Overall, the red tide algae was detected in 65 samples from Southwest Florida over the prior seven days, FWC noted.

Further, the agency pointed out that respiratory irritation “suspected to be related to red tide” was reported over the past week in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties, while red tide also was suspected to have caused fish kills in the same counties.

The previous FWC update, issued on Nov. 22, said that bloom concentrations of Karenia brevis had been observed in 82 samples collected along Florida’s Gulf Coast over the previous week.

Thirty-four of those bloom samples were collected in and offshore of Sarasota County; 38, in and offshore of Lee County; seven in Collier County; two in Charlotte County; and one in Manatee County, FWC said.

Additionally, FWC noted that respiratory irritation suspected to be linked to red tide was reported over the seven days prior to Nov. 22 in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties. The agency also said that fish kills believed to be a product of red tide exposure had been received over the previous week in Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties.