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New forecasting tool offers real-time red tide outlook on Sanibel

Posted at 8:25 AM, Oct 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-29 22:05:34-04

SANIBEL ISLAND, Fla. – Tuesday, Fox 4 got a look at a new forecasting tool developed by scientists to help Southwest Floridians more easily navigate red tide in real-time.

“Red tide is highly variable from day to day, based on the wind and tides and so on, we want to let people know what beaches are good beaches to go to and which beaches should be avoided at any given time,” said Barbara Kirkpatrick, Executive Director, Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA-National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) and Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS) are all expected on Sanibel Island Tuesday. They’ll demonstrate the new technology behind the new forecast.

Rather than the water samplings Southwest Floridians are used to that take a few days to get results back, this new tool offers an hour-by-hour outlook at least two days in advance.

“The irritation is caused by wind direction and wind speeds so were are able to forecast with a couple cells counts per week, the respiratory irritation every three hours on three beaches throughout Sanibel,” said Dr. Eric Milbrandt, Director of Marine Laboratory, Sanibel Capita Conservation Foundation.

The goal is to help people who live and visit Sanibel Island beaches to know the best day and time to visit a certain beach, and when to avoid them. This is especially important for people with athsma and other chronic lung diseases.

The new forecast was developed with support of a grant from NASA's Applied Science Program through the Health and Air Quality Program. A newly developed portable microscope system, called a HABScope, uses video and artificial intelligence (AI) to quickly analyze water samples for near real-time cell counts of Karenia brevis, the marine organism that causes Florida red tides.

Quicker results are a big deal -- especially for those who suffer from athsma and chronic respiratory conditions.

“Sometimes if we are down at the beach in the afternoon sometimes the eyes will be watering, the nose running, a little more coughing to it’s time to head inland where it’s not as prevalent,” said Lynne Ortisi, Tourist from Montana.

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) along with Sanibel Sea School will be the ones coordinating the collection of water samples needed. The forecast has already seen success in Pinellas County.