Red tide made its unwelcome annual presence known as October opened giving caution to those with respiratory problems along the Southwest Florida coastline, including Boca Grande.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has detected red tide up and down the coast between Manatee County and Sanibel Island since early August, with the highest counts in Boca Grande Pass and Pine Island Sound during one week in September.
Small, dead fish have been reported on the beaches outside the Boca Grande Club and elsewhere around Gasparilla Island in the last two weeks. Water samples collected the first week of October showed low to medium concentrations of red tide algae alongshore Charlotte and northern Lee counties, including Gasparilla Island.
Mote Marine Laboratory scientist Alan Hails with the underwater robot, named Waldo, he created to track and crack the red tide code.
Slight respiratory irritation was reported Friday among beachgoers at Manasota Beach, Venice Beach and Venice North Jetty with no respiratory effects elsewhere in the county. Respiratory impacts were minimal because favorable winds kept red tide toxins away from shore. Dead fish were also reported at the three beaches and along Gasparilla Island shores.
Mote Marine Laboratory scientists have deployed an underwater robot nicknamed "Waldo" off Englewood to monitor the red tide bloom, which is rated as moderate to negligible. Waldo was deployed Friday on a boat several miles offshore Englewood. The robot is programmed to move southward to Boca Grande Pass in the next two weeks.
The yellow, torpedo-shaped autonomous underwater vehicle will gather information at thee edge of the bloom on its shape, size and chemical makeup. The robot carries a BreveBuster - a Mote-designed instrument that detects Florida red tide algae, Karenia brevis.
The robot data should offer scientists a better understanding of red tide dynamics. Mote is partnering with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and the University of South Florida. Mote researchers will also analyze beach water samples collected by the Sarasota County Health Department.
Satellite images provided by USF suggested the bloom stretched from Sarasota County to offshore Collier County. New images and results from water samples are expected this week.
Mote's AUV will monitor red tide algae by zigzagging the water column looking beneath the surface where satellites cannot see it. The robot will send findings to Mote scientists each time it surfaces.
Mote scientists collected water samples by boat Oct. 5 at 18 sites in the bloom area to determine the strength of the bloom and to learn more about other environmental conditions - for instance, what other organisms are present - during red tide.
Mote's Beach Conditions Report System, which covers 26 beaches along the Gulf Coast, has reported moderate and patchy effects of red tide, which varied from day to day - and even from morning to afternoon - throughout this week.