Florida’s Tampa Bay has been battling toxic red tide bloom for weeks now. Hundreds of tons of dead fish and other marine organisms, as well as debris, have been washing ashore routinely, causing trouble for beachgoers. So now, some counties are turning to modern technology solutions like drones to keep their beaches clean.
What is a red tide bloom? What makes it harmful?
A red tide, or harmful algal bloom, is a higher-than-normal concentration of a microscopic alga (plantlike organism) in the water. In Florida, the species that causes the maximum number of red tides is Karenia Brevis. In 2018, a massive red tide bloom in the state killed 200 tons of marine life and caused $8 million in economic losses. This year, an overgrowth of toxic algae was detected in the Tampa Bay area as early as May, right before Memorial Day weekend.
As deadly as red tides are for marine life, they produce toxic chemicals that can affect humans too. When these toxins are released into the air by wave action, it can lead to respiratory irritation. For people with severe or chronic respiratory conditions, such as emphysema or asthma, red tide can cause serious illness.
How can drones help with red tide management?
In Florida’s Manatee County, officials are sending drones out over the water to identify the areas that have been hit the hardest by red tide blooms. Whenever water discoloration – such as the brownish, deep-reddish color associated with red tides – is spotted, beach cleanup crews are guided to the places where debris is expected to end up.
The idea is to keep debris from sitting on the sand in order to make a visit to the beach possible. As Liza Click, a beach maintenance supervisor for Manatee County, says:
Each day we go out, we assess what needs to be done, we collect it and bring it back, dump it in one of our dumpsters, then do it again the next day.
Members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) also agree that drones can be effective in monitoring waters for outbreaks and speeding up cleanup efforts. Commission Chairman Rodney Barreto tells local news outlets:
Let’s get on the offensive. Drone technology is where it’s at today. I mean, it’s amazing. Right? Much cheaper. Much more efficient than sending a helicopter up, for sure.
Meanwhile, if you want to report a fish kill to the FWC, you can call their hotline at 800-636-0511.
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