FAU Harbor Branch scientists study impact of algae blooms on sharks, stingrays.

Posted at 10:43 PM, Oct 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-13 04:09:38-04

ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. -- The thick, green mats of algae in the Indian River Lagoon haven’t been seen for months, but chances are they will return.

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Brand new research is being done to see what kind of harm algae blooms could have on sea life.


Researchers with FAU Harbor Branch are aiming to learn more about how the blooms, or other factors like Lake Okeechobee discharges, impact sharks and stingrays.


Dr. Matthew Ajemian says the predators are some of the best subjects to gauge long-term impacts to the Indian River Lagoon. They live for decades and can be tracked for a longer period of time than other sea life.


“I don’t think you can afford to not know what’s happening to these animals,” said Ajemian.


Since July, scientists have been tagging and surgically implanting trackers into sharks and stingrays that they can catch.


They’ve tagged and tracked nearly 100 sharks and stingrays between the St. Lucie and Sebastian Inlets.


It’s an area where Ajemian says little research has been done on the animals.


"Right now we still don’t even know what happens in an algae bloom to sharks or rays, so we’re hopefully going to be able to get to that,”he said.


He’s aiming to track how long the animals stay in the area and how their health changes in certain conditions.


Researches take blood samples from the fish they catch to have a baseline for their health status.


“We’ll have a better idea of how much of a home these species are making out of the Indian River Lagoon.”


This research, Ajemian hopes, will last for decades.


“I hope this extends beyond my lifetime,” Ajemian added.


Scientists also track the kinds of species they catch. Ajemian says scientists were surprised to catch a small tooth sawfish, an endangered animal he did not believe was still in the lagoon.


That adds to the importance of learning more about the conditions in the waterways to better protect endangered animals.


The research is being funded largely by the Save our Seas license plates.