University of Central Florida uses 6-foot ‘test tubes’ to study red tide
This study is the first successful test of any red tide mitigation technology in open water using large water column containers called limnocorrals.
A potential treatment for Florida’s devastating red tides took another step toward widespread deployment after successful testing in Sarasota Bay.
Additional detailed data analysis is required to confirm results, but UCF Assistant Professor of Biology Kristy Lewis is encouraged by the large-scale test of a red tide mitigation technology called clay flocculation that was performed in partnership with Mote Marine Laboratory.
This study is the first successful test of any red tide mitigation technology in open water using large water column containers called limnocorrals. These tubes — about six feet in diameter — extend from the waters’ surface to the ocean floor, allowing scientists to test real ocean conditions within a controlled setting. Think of it like a giant test tube.
Experts and technicians from Mote Marine Laboratory and funding from Florida Sea Grant provided the necessary resources to set eight limnocorrals into Sarasota Bay. Four columns were treated with a fine spray of the clay solution, while the other four served as a control.
Clay flocculation works by the clay attaching to the Karenia brevis algae, which is responsible for Florida red tide, and sinking them to the ocean floor. Lewis has spent the last three years carefully testing the impact of introducing this non-native mineral into the ocean ecosystem. She’s not only looking for changes in the water’s nutrients and quality, but also evaluating how the clay impacts the health of invertebrates like blue crabs, sea urchins and clams.
“We want to make sure the cure is not worse than the disease,” she says.
Initial plans for the large-scale test were simply to measure the impact of the clay on the ecosystem, but the unexpected appearance of an actual red tide event heightened the realism of the experiment. Initial results suggest the clay performed as expected, but there’s still a question of whether the algae’s toxins remain dormant or active on the ocean floor. Water samples collected during the experiment should provide an answer.