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Where's Waldo? Robot Searching For Red Tide Bloom

Robot "Waldo" launched by Mote Marine Laboratory in Englewood monitoring red tide and its movements.

A yellow, torpedo-shaped robot named "Waldo" is on a journey to keep an eye on red tide bloom that has appeared near Englewood.

Mote Marine Laboratory deployed the underwater robot, also called an autonomous underwater vehicle, was deployed Friday morning off the coast of Englewood detecting red tide algae, its shape, size and other information. Red tide algae can cause respiratory illnesses, nausea and other health issues. So far no red tide algae has been reported on Siesta, Turtle and Lido beaches.

“Waldo has a critical job in the team effort to monitor and study this red tide bloom,” said Dr. Gary Kirkpatrick, manager of Mote’s Phytoplankton Ecology Program and creator of the BreveBuster, which helps collect information on the algae. “The AUV can stay at sea for much longer periods than researchers on a boat, and it can do its job in almost any kind of weather. It’s important to have this kind of continuous monitoring to help ground-truth satellite images and to complement the more detailed information we’re getting from our water samples.”

During the next two weeks, the robot is programmed to move southward to an area offshore of Boca Grande pass and then head toward the last known edge of the bloom, according to Mote. 

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) and the University of South Florida (USF) are partnering in the study.

Water samples collected early last week showed low to medium concentrations of red tide algae alongshore of Charlotte and northern Lee Counties. Additional samples have shown lower concentrations elsewhere along Southwest Florida’s coast. Satellite images provided by USF early last week suggested the bloom stretched from Sarasota County to offshore Collier County.

Mote hopes to have new images and results from water samples in the next few days. Stay with Patch to monitor Red Tide's movements and whether it will head toward Manatee County.

Mote scientists collected water samples by boat Friday at 18 sites in the bloom area to determine the strength of the bloom and to learn more about other environmental conditions — for instance, what other types of organisms are present — during red tide. Mote scientists are analyzing the samples and will provide results to FWRI for its bi-weekly statewide updates posted here: http://myfwc.com/research/redtide/events/status/statewide/

Mote researchers expect to continue sampling the bloom area next week and will continue to analyze beach water samples collected by the Sarasota County Health Department.

For beach conditions, visit http://coolgate.mote.org/beachconditions/

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