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Mote and partners receive $3.2 million from DEP to develop technologies to combat algal blooms

by Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium 29 May 13:42 UTC
Blue green algae © Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium

Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, in collaboration with commercial and academic partners, were awarded $3.2 million in grants from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to fund three projects focused on preventing blue-green algal blooms and testing water quality technologies that reduce nutrient pollution levels.

The grants are part of the Innovative Technology Grant Program in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which funds projects that evaluate and implement innovative technologies and solutions to combat algal blooms and nutrient enrichment, restore and preserve Florida water bodies, and implement water quality treatment technologies.

"We know first-hand how devastating Harmful Algae Blooms can be," said Dr. Michael P. Crosby, Mote President & CEO. "We're thrilled DEP recognized the important role that Mote plays in the development of new technologies and science-based approaches for mitigating the impacts of HABs to the environment, economy and quality of life in Florida communities and around the world. We're thankful that the state has remained steadfast in its commitment to utilizing best available science for enhancing water quality in both marine and freshwater ecosystems. Florida has led the U.S. with its continued strategic investments in innovative technologies to detect, prevent, and mitigate harmful algal blooms in the most effective, efficient and environmentally sensitive manner possible."

Florida's beaches and waterways have been severely impacted by toxic algae. Harmful algal blooms (HABs) occur when algae — simple organisms that live in the sea and freshwater — grow out of control while producing toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds. There are many kinds of HABs, caused by a variety of algal and cyanobacterial groups with different toxins.

Florida red tide is one of the most commonly known HABs. However, the three projects funded under the Innovative Technology Grant Program look at mitigation and prevention techniques of cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae, which are another type of HABs affecting Florida's waterways that is known to be directly influenced by excess nutrients entering waterways.

Blue-green algae are microscopic organisms found naturally in fresh, brackish (combined salt and freshwater), and marine water. Blue green algae blooms are characterized by blue, bright green, brown or red paint-like streaks on the surface of the water, dense scum, or foam that can emit unpleasant odors.

In warm, nutrient-rich (high in phosphorus and nitrogen) environments, cyanobacteria can multiply quickly, creating blooms that spread across the water's surface. Similar to other HABs like Florida red tide, blue-green algae can produce toxins that harm fish, mammals and people.

The three recently funded projects are:

Lake Guard dew efficacy toward nutrient and harmful algal bloom reductions

This project is focused on monitoring and detection to enable a more proactive response to the presence of cyanobacteria and will allow Mote's Dr. Emily Hall to study the efficacy of innovative treatment methodologies using a water-probe detection product made by BlueGreen Water Technologies, called Lake Guard® Dew, a ready-to-use product that is encapsulated in a thin, inert, biodegradable, proprietary coating which causes it to float on the water's surface and slowly release its mitigation product over time.

Dr. Hall will assess the product's viability for reducing nutrient concentrations, which has the potential for restoration against chronic harmful algal blooms. The project consists of water condition analytics and in-field treatment that will take place at Lake Jesup in Seminole County, Florida, which does not support plant and animal life very well due to excessive nutrients and the presence of cyanobacteria.

Dr. Hall will also:

    1. view to the unique characteristics of the lake in combination with in-water probe devices to supplement artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities in pursuit of improved remote sensing monitoring and predictive modeling
    2. assess whether this product can reduce nutrients, thereby reducing the potential for harmful algal blooms, and keep cyanotoxin levels below advisory thresholds established by the US EPA

Once detection has occurred, treatment can be applied. The treatment product can be used at a large scale that can be easily and responsibly dispersed aerially via a helicopter or fixed wing aircraft and a 1-ton reservoir (which has previously been done with another Lake Guard® product).

"One advantage of this slow-release product is the increase in contact time thereby significantly increasing the potential to bind with impurities in the water," said Dr. Hall, Mote's Chemical and Physical Ecology Research Program Manager. "Lake Guard® Dew's increased binding potential means that only minimal quantities are required to achieve the maximum impact. Typical drivers of algal bloom proliferation are sunlight, warm water temperature, and nutrients. Of these listed, nutrients are the one that we can attempt to control, which is why this project is so important."

Demonstration of cyanobacteria collection and removal using the Aquastream algae collecting skimmer bot

The grant will allow Mote's Dr. Cindy Heil to investigate a cost-efficient, environmentally safe and scalable technology made by Innovation Heights called the Aquastream Cyto-Bot to help mitigate cyanobacteria in Lake Sarasota. The Aquastream is a patented autonomous floating cyanobacterial collector that physically removes cyanobacteria from waterways.

The Aquastream has the advantages against traditional mitigation techniques because:

  1. it does not introduce any chemicals or organisms into the system
  2. it physically removes cells and toxins from the environment
  3. is automated to reduce manpower needs and costs.

This project will test the efficacy of the Aquastream for cyanobacteria cell and toxin removal first in small-scale lab studies and later demonstrate its potential efficacy in a field scale in Lake Sarasota demonstration with measurable cell and toxin metrics in a local aquatic system subject to HABs.

"Establishing and quantifying the efficacy of the Aquastream and demonstrating its field use and effectiveness against cyanobacteria cells and their associated toxins will provide Florida with a portable, autonomous, readily deployable mitigation tool to rapidly respond to, deploy and mitigate cyanobacteria, restoring water quality and minimizing public health risks," said Dr. Heil, Director of Mote's Red Tide Institute.

Non-toxic biodegradable formulation for eliminating cyanobacteria and their toxins in freshwater systems

The grant will allow Mote's Dr. Rich Pierce, and the Ecotoxicology research team, to investigate the effectiveness of Xtreme, a natural non-toxic product developed by Heartland Energy Group, on reducing cyanobacterial cells and toxins, and determining the correct dosage for successful mitigation. This product has shown significant positive signs in Mote's testing of it as a Florida red tide mitigation tool. Mote's Ecotoxicology team will design and implement tests (growing from a small size lab test to larger-scale tests) at Mote's Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Facility at the Mote Aquaculture Research Park. The product, called Xtreme, is currently in use for many water purification and quality improvement applications, including to control the growth of algae.

"Mote and Heartland Energy group have already shown the potential of this product for Florida red tide mitigation, and we're interested to continue to put this product into good use for the mitigation of yet, another HAB affecting our precious waterways," said Dr. Pierce, Mote Ecotoxicology Research Program Manager. "Mote continues to work with the best and brightest from around the world as we continue to development innovate and successful HAB mitigation technologies."

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