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AI being used to better predict harmful algal blooms in Southwest Florida

Posted at 6:59 PM, May 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-11 18:59:43-04

SANIBEL, Fla. — Soon water managers could have a new tool to battle harmful algal blooms like red tide. That tool is AI or artificial intelligence. Researchers at the University of Florida are using AI to forecast 14-day outlooks for harmful blooms. Those forecasts can then be used to stop or slow an algae bloom.

“It is a pretty long forecast to be able to manage, to flush the system if needed to avoid having the favorable conditions to develop (harmful algal) blooms,” said UF Researcher Dr. Enrique Orozco Lopez.

Dr. Orozco Lopez has been developing the AI model to better manage the water flow from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee River with the goal of reducing the amount of released nutrients at produce harmful algal blooms.

“We should be able to flush the accumulation of algae, in the most critical times of the year, which is now,” said Dr. Orozco Lopez. “So, from now, May through September.”

The AI model uses years of archived data and current observations to make those forecasts. Some of the data is coming from the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation’s RECON network, which are sensors set up along the Caloosahatchee and along our coastline. SCCF’s Marine Lab Director Dr. Eric Milbrandt says this could be a game changer in water management.

“As we combine, perimeters, models, etc. and use sort of these new tools like AI to develop those relationships and combine them to make predictions, I think will be the future,” said Dr. Milbrandt

Dr. Milbrandt said this should give water managers time to intercede if a harmful bloom is forecasted.

“There are ways to intervene to potentially make the bloom not as large or not as damaging as it could be,” said Dr. Milbrandt. “Obviously, all those tools are really important to our quality of life. It is also important to the health of the ecosystem.”

And with the complexion of so many moving parts in the Caloosahatchee estuary, Dr. Orozco Lopez says we couldn’t have gotten here without the power of AI technology.

“To obtain these solves and to be able to integrate all this, it is incredible,” said Dr. Orozco Lopez. “I didn’t even we would even be able to get to this point of efficiency.”

Dr. Orozco Lopez tells Fox 4 the hope is to have this AI model operational later this summer for water managers. The funding from the Army Corps of Engineers currently runs through September 2024.