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NEW STUDY: Better understanding Chlorophyll changes could to earlier harmful algal bloom detection

Posted at 4:33 PM, Jun 26, 2024

BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. — Harmful Algal Blooms are something we deal with every year, here in Southwest Florida. But how do they form? There are still some many questions marks in the formation of these blooms. Fox 4 Meteorologist Andrew Shipley went to Vester Field Station in Bonita Springs to find out more about some of the research being done into these blooms.

Meet Kayla Hughes. She is a graduate research assistant at Florida Gulf Coast University’s Vester Field station. She is also working on research to help us better understand how harmful algal blooms form.

“Within my thesis, I am trying to find out what’s happening when chlorophyll is blooming and peaking, "said Hughes. “So, what are the other perimeters like temperature and salinity. Those other types, and nutrients. What are they doing at the same time, when chlorophyll is peaking?”

Taking you back to middle school science class, chlorophyll is the green pigment in plants. It’s also found in algae.

“So, Chlorophyll is a great indicator for water body health,” Hughes explained. “It’s found in all phytoplankton, which are the very tiny little creatures in the water. And excess nutrients can lead to more phytoplankton growth, which ultimately forms harmful algal blooms.”

But how important is chlorophyll to you and me?

“It’s a great indicator for upcoming blooms,” says Hughes. “We can get alerts if the chlorophyll gets too high, which causes us to want to investigate more. And see if we can warn people a HAB is coming.”

And if you are wondering if they have seen any of those early warning signs, Hughes says they have, especially are all the recent rain.

“After a rain event you can expect more runoff from residential and urban areas, that may contain those key nutrients that phytoplankton need to reproduce and multiply,” said Hughes. “So, we can see the reflection in the chlorophyll levels.”

While Hughes research is still in the data collection phase, she hopes this information can be used in bigger ways.

“Hopefully in the future, this can lead to the development of some kind of model,” said Hughes. “Saying if these parameters hit x amount, then maybe we should keep a look out for a potential bloom.”