Mote Marine Laboratory scientists deployed an underwater robot nicknamed "Waldo" off Englewood to monitor the ongoing bloom of red tide off Southwest Florida.
The yellow, torpedo-shaped autonomous underwater vehicle will head toward the edge of the bloom to gather information on its shape, size and other characteristics. The robot carries a BreveBuster - a Mote-designed instrument that detects Florida red tide algae, Karenia brevis.
Waldo was deployed Friday on a boat several miles offshore of Englewood. During the next two weeks, the robot is programmed to move southward to an area offshore of Boca Grande Pass and then head toward the last known edge of the bloom.
Alan Hails of Mote Marine with Waldo, an underwater robot monitoring red tide this week along Gasparilla Island and elsewhere on the Southwest Florida coastline.
Mote wants to gain a better understanding of red tide dynamics along with partners from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and the University of South Florida. Water samples collected the first week of October showed low to medium concentrations of red tide algae alongshore of Charlotte and northern Lee counties, including Gasparilla Island.
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 he presence of red tide algae by zigzagging up and down the water column to look for the red tide algae 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 types of organisms are present - during red tide.
Mote researchers will continue sampling the bloom area this week and also analyze beach water samples collected by the Sarasota County Health Department.
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.
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 probably minimal because favorable winds kept red tide toxins away from shore. Dead fish were also reported at the same three beaches and along Gasparilla Island.