Drones used to track red tide along Florida coast

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Red tide is a microscopic menace, harmful to humans and deadly for some fish and birds.

Now robotic technology is closer to unlocking the secrets of when and where red tide will hit, protecting human health and our natural resources.

Vincent Lovko with Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota explained, "Red tide is present here all the time, as far as we know. It's endemic, meaning it belongs here. It's been here for a very long time," Lovko said.

Over 400 years ago, the first Floridians called it Red Water, a strange phenomenon that killed fish and birds and made people sick. red tide is a harmful, microscopic bloom of algae that produces neurotoxins.

Last month alone, fish kills were spotted from Manatee County down to Charlotte County.

Using technology unproven just a few years ago, and unimaginable for the first Floridians, Lovko wants to unlock the riddle of red tide.

"The drone technology or the UAV's will have an advantage [giving us] an idea of how much is in the water much closer to the shore," Lovko explained.

But these aren't ordinary aerial devices. One drone was custom made to fly out, land in the water, and take samples. There's also a drone equipped with a hyperspectral camera that can capture images satellites may miss.

"Now we have robots that can go out. We have the [Autonomous Underwater Vehicle] AUV's and we have UAV's in the sky, and these can go out and collect data much more frequently for us and on a much better spacial scale over a much broader area," Lovko said.

An AUV is a kind of underwater drone Lovko also uses to track the tide. One day soon, he hopes we'll have a better understanding of red tide and how to lessen its deadly effects.

"If we know when they start then we can relate them to certain environmental conditions that potentially cause them to start and then that gives us a way to either forecast or develop a good forecast or prediction system or even potentially strategies to even mitigate red tide," Lovko explained.

To learn more about research at the Mote Marine Laboratory and to track red tide in your area, visithttps://mote.org/research/program/environmental-health/beach-conditions-report-red-tide-information.