Recently, the Florida coast hasn’t been as beach-worthy as it usually is this time of year. This is due to the red tide that has been affecting numerous shorelines over the past several weeks, becoming the worst appearance of it in over a decade. Not only does it make swimming conditions less than ideal, but it caused caused illnesses and hurt small businesses that rely on beach traffic.
According to NOAA, “A red tide, or harmful algal bloom, is the rapid growth of microscopic algae. Some produce toxins that have harmful effects on people, fish, marine mammals, and birds. In Florida and Texas, this is primarily caused by the harmful algae species, Karenia brevis. It can result in varying levels of eye and respiratory irritation for people, which may be more severe for those with pre-existing respiratory conditions (such as asthma). The blooms can also cause large fish kills and discolored water along the coast.”
This red tide has killed an unprecedented numbers of fish, sea turtles, and manatees. Even a 26-foot whale shark was discovered washed up on a beach at Sanibel Island, possibly being a victim of the red tide. Not only have these algae blooms affected the ocean, but they have also made their ways into canals, reaching inland from Tampa Bay to the Florida Keys.
Pelicans, ducks, and other types of birds are also being affected, illustrating just how reliant these animals are on the health of the aquatic ecosystem. What’s worse is that the wildlife found dead on the beaches or at the surface of the water is only a small portion of the actual toll. Most dead fish and aquatic animals sink to the bottom of the sea or are consumed.
According to University of Miami researcher Larry Brand, this year’s red tide is so bad is because “large amount[s] of nutrient-rich water [is] coming down the Caloosahatchee River into the coastal waters.”
Swimmers are urged to stay out of the waters in southwestern Florida, as the inhalation of brevetoxin, which is a neurotoxin, can cause gastrointestinal or respiratory distress. This week, the high respiratory irritation levels are forecast to be located at beaches in Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee, and Collier Counties, according to NOAA.
NOAA Infographic on Red Tide: