Mote scientists using robots to monitor red tide bloom

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- In a mission to study the largest red tide bloom in the Gulf since 2006, both Mote researchers and the University of South Florida have deployed two underwater robots, “Waldo” and “Bass,” to cover different paths of the bloom and provide scientists with specific data fed via satellite.

"They're both collecting data like temperature and salinity. Bass has optical data and chlorophyll and Waldo has one of the OPD’s, the fighter plankton discriminators," explained Dr. Kellie Dixon of Mote Marine.

40 miles off the coast of Herando and Pasco counties, Waldo patrols the border of the bloom, finding red tide at the surface and at depths of 82 feet.

Meanwhile, Bass has been transecting the outer portion, finding elevated chlorophyll in waters as deep as 131 feet.

Waldo has covered about one third of its path; but at this time, satellite images are cloudy.

"Since the red tide can swim, it can also aggregate and so you can have a million cells per liter, and then a couple hours later they all kind of glom together and you can have 10 million per liter."

As they continue to study the bloom, Mote Marine offers a way for the public to follow Waldo and Bass. One family visiting from Michigan heard rumors of the tide and checked online before a visit to the beach.

And while the bloom is headed south, Mote scientists say it is slow-moving and is not a threat to beachgoers at this time.

In the future, researchers are hopeful that using the robot technology will allow them to find out what triggers the red tide bloom.

"We hope to be able to have a rotating conveyor belt of gliders out, where someone puts one in and the next group down current picks one out, and then they take it to the start so that way we can capture physical conditions before the bloom happens."

Mote plans to bring in Waldo by the end of the week. Mote scientists say the FWC is expected to release the latest cell counts on Fridays.