One of the Tampa Bay area’s most prominent marine biologists is giving 8 On Your Side an exclusive look at his most recent research dive. 

While no one can prevent red tide or predict where it will show up, one St. Petersburg College professor is using the situation to help educate his students.

Red tide is an algae bloom causing big problems along the coast.

“Red tide is a single celled algae, what they call a dinoflagellate,” said Dr. Heyward Mathews.

The man who started the Clearwater Marine Aquarium dives with his marine biology class twice a month, teaching them about the disastrous algae. 

He described what’s going on in their underwater classroom.

“I have a spike that we put on the bottom and a line that runs out then for 50 meters. So I’m swimming along the line with an underwater clipboard and I’m counting the fish within a two meter swath 50 meters long,” he told us.

They’ve been keeping an eye on two offshore reefs near the Pinellas Coast.

“The students are learning how to do the research, how to write it up and then how to present it to a group of their peers,” Dr. Mathews said.

“It gives the students, in particular the ones who really want to be science majors, really first hand knowledge of exactly what scientific research is about.” 

While this recent red tide outbreak is rough, Dr. Mathews says it’s not the first and it likely won’t be the last.

“I’ve been around here over 50 years. So, yeah they have been this bad.”

Dr. Mathews said the two reefs his students are monitoring are still both healthy and have lots of fish.