Funds to benefit marine, student environment

As part of a new research initiative, USF students will likely be working with marine scientists within the next few years to research the cause and effect of red tide.

On Aug. 21, representatives of both USF and Mote Marine Laboratory finalized a plan that will involve raising $20 million to develop a “Center of Excellence in Marine Science.”

The new center will focus on a number of research projects centered mainly on the Florida coast and the surrounding Gulf of Mexico. The first of these endeavors will be a project called “BioSense.”

This project will coordinate information-gathering equipment already in use. The resulting network will then be made available to scientists from Mote Marine Laboratory and students in the field of marine studies.

According to Kent Fanning, associate dean of the College of Marine Science, this agreement has been in the works since late last spring. Before any research can begin, the $20 million to fund the project must be acquired. The plan in place calls for the USF Foundation and the Mote Marine Foundation to raise $5 million each.

The resulting $10 million will then be matched dollar-for-dollar by the state of Florida. A large portion of this sum will be used for “creating a coastal system to monitor what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico, especially things that measure for things like red tide,” said Nadine Slimak, public relations manager for Mote Marine.

According to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Web site, red tide consists mainly of overactive algae that, when carried by the tide in large clumps, makes it appear as though the waves are blood red. This plankton can infect various sea life including shellfish and crabs, that can be toxic if consumed by humans.

The study of this phenomena will be one of the focuses of the BioSense project in this new center. The center will provide students the opportunity to work alongside top marine scientists and gain hands-on experience in collecting and analyzing oceanographic data.

According to Slimak, public awareness will be the crucial factor in determining how long it takes for the two foundations to raise $10 million.

“I hope the public will see how important the issue is,” Slimak said.

If all goes according to plan, Fanning said it will be 18 months before the center is up and running.