The recent red tide attack on Boca Grande extracted a price from islanders in terms of tourist traffic and personal health. Red tide is a natural phenomenon that has been reported in the Gulf of Mexico since the 1800s and scientists are still trying to get a grip on exactly why it occurs, how it can be dispelled and what dangers it poses.
It certainly can threaten island residents with compromised respiratory systems. For example, Nora Lea Reefe, Boca Grande Garden Club president, was briefly hospitalized after Thanksgiving with a life-threatening asthma attack exacerbated by airborne red tide spores, according to her physician.
More answers are on the horizon regarding this mysterious affliction, which lays waste to sea life and envelops the landscape with foul smells and sometimes unendurable air quality.
Emily Hall, staff scientist, Mote Laboratory Chemical Ecology Program, and an adjunct professor at Ringling College of Art and Design.
Red tide expert Emily Hall joined Mote Marine Laboratory's Chemical Ecology Program in 2005 after extensive research of sediments, water, flora and fauna in rivers, estuaries, lakes, springs and marine environments. Her research and monitoring of nutrient patterns in relation to harmful algal blooms in the west-central coast of Florida, including Boca Grande, Tampa Bay, Charlotte Harbor and the Caloosahatchee River investigated nutrient sources in aquatic systems using stable isotopes as well as other tracers.
She gave her latest report on the red tide phenomenon Tuesday in Sarasota. The program was significant in light of the ongoing red tide bloom off the Southwest Florida coast since late September, which has been causing fish kills.
Here are her red tide observations:
Emily Hall at a glance
Birth date: Nov. 10, 1976
Occupation: staff scientist, Mote Laboratory Chemical Ecology Program, and an adjunct professor at Ringling College of Art and Design.
Projects: Helped develop a light attenuation model for Charlotte Harbor, including light attenuation due to epiphytes on seagrass.
Participates in Sarasota Bay and North Port monitoring projects for water quality and red tide, which includes measurements of water quality constituents and water sample collection and preservation.
Hall also leads research cruises and field sampling days for the county-funded Sarasota Bay monitoring program, state-funded red tide monitoring and federally funded red tide monitoring. Other projects include a minimum flows and levels project in the Myakka River, determining water quality in multiple tidal creeks and running bioassays to determine the use of organic and inorganic nutrients by the phytoplankton community (including Karenia brevis) in the west-central coast of Florida.
Education: Ph.D. in environmental engineering sciences, University of Florida (2004), master's degree in environmental engineering sciences, University of Florida (2001), bachelor's degree in environmental science, Mercer University (1999), bachelor's degree in Spanish, Mercer University (1999).
Contact: (941) 388-4441, Ext. 327 or go to mote.org.
How discovered Boca Grande: Yes, we've done some of our sampling around the area and red tide monitoring.
QUESTION: Do we really know what causes red tide?
ANSWER: Blooms are caused by a complicated recipe of biology, chemistry and ocean physics - complicated enough that helping the public understand what's happening can be difficult.
Q: What do you hope your research on red tide can achieve?
A: Perfect world, we want to continue to study it and try to understand it. It's not something you can cure or fix necessarily.
Q: Why can't we figure out how to dispel it?
A: It's a really complex ecological phenomenon we're still trying to understand. We have better tools now than we had 20 years ago so our data is getting better.
Q: How costly is red tide to the Florida economy?
A: Florida's red tide blooms can have a variety of impacts on communities, causing concerns about everything from a bloom's impact on a local economy to how it affects marine animals like manatees, fish and sea turtles.
Q: Does the red tide mystery fascinate you?
A: I am an employee at Mote and have been working with red tide for about 6.5 years now. There are harmful algaes all over the place.
Q: You and Anamari Boyes, former staff biologist in Mote's Phytoplankton Ecology Program and now a chemist with the Manatee County Water Plant QC Laboratory, have created the Art of Red Tide Science through a grant from Florida's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. What will this program do?
A: A lot of our grants require we take part in outreach services. We've found some materials don't get to the right people. We were trying to come up with a way to combine art and science and we came up with the idea to produce outreach tools to benefit art students. They produce tools that are very different for scientists to produce.
Q: What class emerged?
A: We have been teaching a class called the Ecology of Water and wanted a creative way to engage students more fully in communicating scientific information through their artistic talents. The goal is to showcase the students' creative outreach projects for scientists, resource managers and other experts who can use these tools or draw inspiration for their own educational efforts. By setting art students loose on red tide, we've created a model that other scientific institutions can adopt for the development of better - and, we hope, more effective - outreach tools.