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FWRI scientists monitoring Tampa Bay to learn more about HABs

At nearly 400-square miles, Tampa Bay is Florida’s largest open-water estuary. But one of its smallest inhabitants plays an important role in the bay’s ecology. Microscopic phytoplankton (single-celled algae) provide a valuable food source for many bay organisms, such as fish and oysters. But several species of phytoplankton in Tampa Bay are capable of producing toxins. Under certain conditions, toxic phytoplankton can grow to high concentrations and form a harmful algal bloom (HAB). These toxic blooms can have adverse effects on fish, shellfish, birds, humans and other mammals.

Scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) have undertaken a time-series monitoring project to try to understand when, where and under what conditions harmful algal blooms (HABs) occur. Time-series sampling provides a sequence of data collected at relatively uniform intervals over long periods of time. With these data, scientists can better understand how ecosystems change through time and are influenced by large climatic events such as an El Niño. As scientists learn more about algal blooms, they can use this information to help identify environmental drivers of blooms, which may aid bloom forecasting.

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Scientists do not have the ability to predict algal blooms, but the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’s (FWRI) HAB group is investigating the possibility by learning as much as they can about the conditions that facilitate blooms. They monitor 10 sites in Old Tampa Bay by boat twice each month during spring, summer and early fall, when harmful algal blooms are most likely. During each trip, HAB scientists collect water samples at each site and analyze phytoplankton biomass (amount present) and community composition (types present); toxins; nutrients; and other environmental components that may help them understand and predict toxic blooms.

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Additional Contact Information

Fish & Wildlife Research Institute

100 8th Avenue SE
St Petersburg, FL - 33701

(727) 896-8626