"That information needs to be provided to the management agencies that are responsible, ultimately, for dealing with that situation.”

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) – A team of scientists at the University of South Florida is working to find out more on the Piney Point wastewater leak. Researchers boarded the first research cruise dedicated to studying the environmental impacts of that water breach in Manatee County on Wednesday.

The wall-liner of a Manatee County reservoir continues to release millions of gallons of toxic wastewater into Tampa Bay. Local environmental experts remain concerned and say the toxic water leak is latent with nutrients that could negatively impact the marine environment in the Gulf of Mexico.

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“What’s important is not just to sample where we think the water might be going, right, but the waters that surround it, so we have a complete sampling domain so we know what the impacts might be,” said Tom Frazer, Dean, College of Marine Science.

But scientists are working to get ahead. USF College of Marine Science researchers aboard the R/V Weatherbird II departed for the bay Wednesday morning with plans to look for changes already resulting from the leak that has ended up in the bay.

“We’ve assembled a really excellent team of scientists, chemical oceanographers and biological oceanographers that will allow us to follow the transport of those contaminants and where they might end up,” said Frazer. The team of researchers will collect and monitor water samples, fish, and surface sediments. “Our chemists are going to be particularly interested in looking at the fate following nitrogen and phosphorous and other nutrients in the system. They’ll look at the things that affect the chemistry.”

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While some results will be apparent immediately, the research team says others could take months to fully analyze. “It’s important to be able to mobilize teams quickly when you have an environmental impact like this,” said Frazer. “Because that information needs to be provided to the management agencies that are responsible, ultimately, for dealing with that situation.”

Researchers tell CW44 News At 10 rapid deployments like this one provide an opportunity to help with any mitigation efforts that could help keep our vulnerable coastal resources safe. “What you want to do from a science perspective is understand where that material might be transported. How it might be transformed along the way, and where it might end up.”

The research team, led by USF chemical oceanographer Kristen Buck and biological oceanographer Steve Murawski will collect their findings from Tampa Bay and Port Manatee. They will, then, perform a comprehensive suite of analysis to assess salinity, oxygen, pH, carbon, bacteria, phytoplankton, nutrients, trace metals, fish health and more.

USF will also be collecting samples for partners from the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Eckerd College and Florida State University. The data collected will be available to support the state of Florida’s effort to address the environmental impacts of the Piney Point reservoir release.

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