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Cure for red tide

As his blue eyes peer out from behind no-frame glasses, 71-year-old inventor Bob Rigby sits drinking his second coffee of the morning. Born and raised in Venice, Fla., Rigby is familiar with the area and smiles at each person walking by.

Rigby has experienced all that comes with growing up on the Gulf Coast of Florida, including red tide. After seeing some of its terrible affects, he decided to take matters into his own hands, and in 1992, he began research to find a cure.

Nine years later, Rigby found it.

When an increased amount of algae grows in bodies of water, it is called red tide. This algae creates a toxin, affecting the central nervous system of fish and also respiratory systems in people. While red tide is found all over the world, the Gulf of Mexico produces a distinct kind of red tide, which is characterized by the algae Karenia brevis.

“In good times, the effects are devastating. If we had a bloom, it could wipe out tourism. I figured it can’t be all that complicated,” Rigby said.

Rigby described the invention process as “easy.”

For nine years, he would bring buckets of water into his garage to tweak his new formulas until he found one that was “100 percent stable and only kills the algae.”

But finding funding proved to be much more difficult.

Once Rigby got a patent, he approached several colleges and organizations, including Florida Gulf Coast University in Ft. Myers, Fla., and Mote Marine Laboratory, in Sarasota, Fla., to get his formula recognized and utilized.

Unwilling to allow the organization to take full credit for the formula, Rigby looked elsewhere, approaching legislators. He finally found solace with the Venice mayor, Dean Calamaras, who approved local research at the high school where Rigby graduated, Venice High.

Appointed by the school, veteran marine science teacher, Charlie Powell, became public chairman of the formula’s research, working with the students, Rigby and the public.

“The students felt really good about it. It was a lot of work,” Powell said.

Their research began with two culture flasks of Karenia brevis provided by the Fish and Wildlife Research Insitute in St. Petersburg, Fla. The students were able to see the effect of this bleach-based formula and documented their findings throughout. Students then began to test the formula with water containing fish and shrimp.

“Working with Venice High School students was perfect. There were big hunks that loved two things: rubber and girls, dressed up in lab coats and safety glasses,” Rigby said.

Powell recalls the day when three different television stations came to cover the research being conducted in his classroom.

Since then, however, many have lost interest.

Controversy and skepticism continues to surround the formula and research.

Rigby has contacted Dr. Bill Hogarth, dean of the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science, concerning his newest invention: Solar Water Conversion Technology as well as the red tide formula.

USF Marine Science professor, Dr. Bob Weisburg, is currently evaluating Rigby’s invention. Rigby hopes to get research of both rolling as soon as possible.

He has been waiting for more than a year for a response.

“The little guy gets screwed,” Rigby said. “What’s holding this up?”

All who have been involved are concerned that this formula may go to waste. Nevertheless, Rigby will not give up hope.

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