BOCA GRANDE — Only one water sample throughout Florida — 15 miles off Collier County’s Gulf coastline — has shown any signs of the toxic red tide algae in 2020.

The water sample, taken Jan. 2, turned up with low counts — 10,000 to 100,000 cells per liter of water— of the toxic algae, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on myfwc.com.

The counts may be low, but the subject, and the worries over red tide, have not dissolved from the public’s mind.

Mote Marine Laboratory and the Barrier Island Parks Society will sponsor a public red tide forum 2-4 p.m. Friday at the Boca Grande Community Center, 131 First St. W. The event is sold out.

The speakers and topics include:

• Yonggang Liu with University of South Florida on oceanographic impacts on red tide.

• Nicole Iadevaia with the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program on water quality monitoring program in Charlotte Harbor.

• Megan Cabot with the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) on treating animals for brevetoxicosis caused by algae toxins.

• Richard Pierce, a Mote researcher on ozone testing for red tide mitigation.

• Cynthia Heil, director of Mote’s newly created research Red Tide Institute, on the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algae Blooms program.

Red tide threat

The state experiencing no signs of red tide blooms proliferating throughout Gulf waters, especially off Southwest Florida, is a far different story than a year ago January and for all of 2018.

A year ago January, Charlotte, Sarasota and Lee counties were still seeing medium counts — up to a million cells per water liter. A year ago, Southwest Florida was still recovering from a devastating year in 2018 when intense red tide blooms choked the coastlines.

Red tide, Karina brevis, is an algae natural to the Gulf when its background counts are 1,000 or fewer cells per water liter. Florida’s historical record of red tide blooms dates back to the Spanish explorers.

Intense red tide infested Southwest Florida waters with persistent blooms starting in November 2017. Many times cell counts exceeded million per water liter. The intense blooms not only killed fish, sea turtles and marine animals, it caused coughing and other respiratory aliments in humans, and temporarily affected tourist based and other local businesses.

Those days triggered greater concern over the impacts from red tide and other harmful algae.

In August 2019, newly elected Gov. Ron DeSantis came to Englewood to announce he was revamping a state red tide task force, obtained $4.8 million from the Florida Legislature for red tide research, and promised to seek more in federal funding.

In October 2018, a $1 million grant from the Andrew and Judith Economos Charitable Foundation led to the creation of Mote’s Red Tide Institute.

And in October 2019, NOAA issued $10.2 million to fund research projects to help understand and better predict harmful algal blooms. Of those grants, $2.9 million are to be dedicated to red tide research.

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