Tom Frankovich was taking a break from putting together a report on THAT red tide, out stretching his legs, when a Key Largo man pulled up in front of the office. Sergio Matos told Frankovich, a Florida International University scientist, about something odd-looking in the canal. That’s when Frankovich found THIS red tide: Fibrocapsa japonica.

Fibrocapsa japonica have been associated with fish kills in southeast Asia and illness of seals in the North Sea. The Karenia brevis species is the one causing all of the havoc on the west, and now east coasts of Florida. There is no cause for alarm in the Keys, Frankovich said.

“This particular algae is a natural part of the environment and often forms harmless blooms with no noticeable effects on marine life, but it has the potential to cause fish kills if it persists for long time periods,” he said.

The find is distinctive just because it’s the first time it’s been found in the Keys.

The water sample was taken from a canal in the Pirate’s Cove subdivision of Key Largo. For months, agents of the Fish and Wildlife Commission have been testing Keys waters for the harmful algal bloom, the Karenia brevis, and found nothing. But earlier this week scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced they believed the red tide bypassed the Keys on the Gulf of Mexico loop current — shooting between the Marquesas and Dry Tortugas.

The Karenia brevis occurs exclusively in the Gulf of Mexico, a natural phenomenon that has been documented as far back as the 19th century. It forms offshore and can be pushed by wind and current to nearshore waters. If nearshore waters are nutrient-rich, the condition worsens.

It is rare, but not unheard of, for there to be a Kareniabrevis bloom on the east coast of Florida. There have been eight blooms on the east coast since the 1950s.

“This is consistent with the belief that some of this algae bloom gets entrained in the loop current and shoots up the east coast,” said Frankovich. He said it wasn’t surprising that the red tide showed in Palm Beach County first. “That’s where the Gulf Stream is closest to shore and where it’s likely any transfer would occur.”

Samples are at the lab to determine level of white fly infestation

Remember the whitefly? Well, it’s back, but not at the same levels the Keys experienced in 2013.

The Rugose Spiraling Whitefly likes the gumbo limbo, palms and avocado trees in the Keys. It feeds on the trees and excretes a sticky “honeydew” which, in turn, promotes the growth of a sooty black mold.

“A couple of years ago, you couldn’t walk across the Publix parking lot. Your shoes stuck to the pavement,” said Marathon Garden Club’s Judy Shaw who is a master gardener.

Reports of the whitefly have been trickling into the Monroe County Extension Office, operated in concert with the University of Florida. So far, the office has received about a dozen calls, some from homeowners, others from pest control companies.

The whitefly in the Keys are considered more of a nuisance than anything else, quickly knocked down by naturally occurring parasites, or a good dousing with the garden hose.

“From my observations, there seemed to be a promising number of parasitoids in each of the samples taken, but I am not the expert,” said Michelle Leonard-Mularz, environmental horticulture agent with the extension service. “I’m waiting to hear back from the entomologist working on analyzing the samples before making any management recommendations.”

The flies are tiny, resembling a big mote of dust. The wingspan is about 3 millimeters — smaller than the size of two fleas nose to nose. Like the rest of the animal kingdom, the whitefly is subject to the rollercoaster of prey and predator to maintain a natural balance. In the case of the whitefly, the predator is even tinier: a wasp that is barely visible to the naked eye.

“I used a magnifying glass, and it still looked like a blue-ish, black speck,” said Shaw.

For now, the best course of action is to leave the tree, whiteflies, and wasps alone and let nature do its work. If control is warranted, use the least toxic approach first, so not to harm the beneficial insects feeding on the whitefly. “Indiscriminant spraying of contact insecticides would also kill the beneficial parasitoids feeding on the whitefly,” said Leonard-Mularz.

“All of the wind and rain we had this week might take care of it,” said Shaw.

This particular whitefly was first discovered in Florida in 2009, and thought to have originated in Belize.

For more information, contact the UF/IFAS Extension Office at 305-292-4504 in Key West or 305-453-8748 in Key Largo.


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