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Researchers release red dye into Altamaha River

Published: Sep. 9, 2014 at 4:32 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 9, 2014 at 4:32 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - On Tuesday, 50 gallons of red dye was released along the Georgia coast.

Researchers from Georgia Southern University set out on the water Tuesday morning, releasing a fluorescent red dye called "rhodamine wt" from the Altamaha River sound, and tracking it to see where it ends up.

"This dye will make it to Gray's Reef and other hard bottom habitat offshore, which suggests that water is coming in and out of the Altamaha - contaminants, nutrients - it could have both positive and negative effects," said Danny Gleason, the director of the Institute for Coastal Plain Science at Georgia Southern University.

Gleason said they're trying to establish whether or not there are connections between different waterways.

"We want people to know if they live in Atlanta or they live inland of Georgia and they release things into the environment, if they make it into the river systems, they could not only be impacting those river systems...they could have significant impacts all the way 20 to 30 miles offshore," he said.

The research team will monitor the dye for the first eight or nine hours by eye and then they'll rely on tools that will track it every minute for the next two weeks.

"Oh yeah, it looks really cool," Gleason said.

The research is funded by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary is providing the logistical support for the project.

"It's great to see people in awe with the science and to come out and enjoy nature," said Amy Rath, the Communications and Outreach Coordinator for Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary.

This year local school teachers got to be involved too, making large floating devices called "drifters" which will also be tracked as they float along the river.

"We brought in teachers as a meaningful way to communicate the science that we are currently doing by bringing them in and having them become intimate with the research that we're doing they're able to bring it back to the classroom," Rath said.

And the teachers are excited to take part.

"We're trying to take this experience and spread it as far over the curriculum as we possibly can," said Kathleen Hobbs, a teacher at the STEM Academy in Savannah.

She said this is a way to get her students excited about various different topics in science.

"We were brainstorming different ways we could use this technology. I wasn't telling them how we could use it they were coming up with ideas of how they could use it in the classroom," Hobbs said.

Since there is only so much room on the boat, only a few teachers go to go and no students could go out on the trip. But organizers hope to find a way to expand the program. In the meantime, the data gathered from the drifters will be made available to local school teachers for use in the classroom

"So we have six teachers on board today but teachers across the county use it," Rath said.

If you'd like to track the drifters, you can click here: http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/drifter/drift_grnms_2014_2.html

In the meantime, the dye researchers are releasing into the water is very visible. If you happen to see red water along the Georgia coast don't worry - it's not toxic. It's also water soluble, which means it will rinse off.

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