Sanibel Sea School Blog

HABscope at Sanibel Sea School

May 3, 2021

Over the past few months, several students from Florida Gulf Coast University have been volunteering with Sanibel Sea School. These FGCU students worked to gather water samples to evaluate red tide levels near Sanibel Island.

Red tide is caused by algae called Karenia brevis, which produces brevetoxins that can cause respiratory irritation in humans when the growth of the algae is left unchecked. Individuals with conditions such as asthma may be more susceptible to respiratory irritation, so the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) created a respiratory forecast map that uses data on Karenia brevis cell counts to inform beachgoers of the risk of respiratory symptoms.

Sanibel Sea School is one of many organizations in Southwest Florida that have been working with the GCOOS and NOAA to record red tide data using the HABscope system (HAB = Harmful Algal Bloom). The HABscope is a microscope that utilizes an iPod to record 30-second videos of water samples. Facial recognition software is used to determine the number of Karenia brevis cells in the sample and uses that number to estimate red tide levels in the area for that day. Using the data, the software also rates the red tide levels from very low to high, and maps out risks for beachgoers on this map:

As part of a civic engagement class, FGCU students chose to volunteer at Sanibel Sea School to analyze water samples to learn more about water quality in our area. Two to three times per week, FGCU students visited Lighthouse Beach Park to collect a water sample from the fishing pier. While the students were there, they noted the conditions of the water, whether it was clear or green, choppy or calm. Then, they recorded the weather conditions, wind speed and direction, and how many people and animals were on the beach.

Back in the lab, students used the HABscope to analyze the water samples they collected and sent data to GCOOS and NOAA.

This was a great experience for the FGCU students because not only were they able to contribute valuable data to these organizations, but they also learned about red tide research and provided important information to the community.

Sanibel Sea School hopes to recruit more volunteers in the future to participate in this important HABscope monitoring system for red tide in Southwest Florida.

A HABscope used to monitor red tide.A HABscope used to monitor red tide.

A HABscope used to monitor red tide.

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