First responders training for red tide detection

Red Tide Rangers date back to early 1990s.

Red Tide

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND  –  A recent red tide in the Galveston Bay area has marine experts near the mouth of the Rio Grande vigilant for any signs that the harmful algal bloom has moved south.

Leslie Sweeten, a longtime Red Tide Ranger, documents data from a water sample taken from the surf at South Padre Island. (AgriLife Communications photo by Rod Santa Ana)

“To help in early detection, we’re recruiting volunteers to help us gather and analyze water samples in and around the South Padre Island area,” said Tony Reisinger, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent for coastal and marine resources in San Benito.

Training for volunteers, known as Red Tide Rangers, will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Sept. 12 at the University of Texas-Pan American Coastal Studies Laboratory, located in Isla Blanca Park, 100 Marine Lab Drive on South Padre Island.

Red tides are caused by high concentrations or blooms of microscopic algae called Karenia brevis, Reisinger said. The algae produce a toxin that can affect the central nervous systems of fish, birds, mammals and other animals. In high enough concentrations, it can cause water discoloration, making it appear red, green or brown.

“It’s not life-threatening for humans, but it can cause burning eyes, coughing, sneezing, skin irritation and respiratory problems,” he said. “Symptoms are temporary, but whenever a red tide alert is issued, it’s best for people with respiratory problems, especially asthmatics, and pets to just stay away. Even at low cell counts, red tide can become a problem in high winds or rough surf.”

The last red tide alert in the area was issued Sept. 16, 2011, and lifted two days later.

“That red tide lingered into 2012, but most of it moved up the coast,” Reisinger said. “We stopped sampling in January because we just weren’t finding it in our water-sample cell counts.”

Training to become a Red Tide Ranger, a group created by Reisinger in the early 1990s, includes learning how to collect water samples, identifying the red tide organism and counting the number of cells under a microscope, he said.

Speakers at the training will include Brigette Goza, an education coordinator at the Coastal Studies Lab, who will recount lessons learned from recent red tide events. Meridith Byrd, response coordinator for hazardous algal blooms with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, will discuss dangers posed by Karenia brevis and Dinophysis ovum, another harmful algal bloom found in Texas coastal waters.

She will also discuss how the state uses data collected by Red Tide Rangers and others to determine bay closures, seafood advisories and public health warnings.

Dr. Paul Zimba, director of the Center for Coastal Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, will discuss recent research findings on brevetoxin, the toxin released by red tide cells, and its effects on humans and wildlife.

Cost is $10. Registration is required, and seating is limited. For more information or to register, contact Diane Abbott at the Coastal Studies Lab at 956-761-2644.

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