Florida’s Red Tide outbreak is the worst it’s been in 10 years. Up and down the west coast of Florida thousands of fish, manatees, sea turtles, dolphins and other wildlife are dying from this toxic algae bloom. According to the NOAA website, Red Tide are “Harmful algal blooms, or HABs, occur when colonies of algae—simple plants that live in the sea and freshwater—grow out of control while producing toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds.” There are approximately 50 different varieties of harmful algae blooms in the Gulf of Mexico but one of the worst which is currently affecting the west coast of Florida is called Karenia Brevis. Although the algae is a natural phenomenon many experts claim it has gotten worse in recent years due to the harmful pesticides and fertilizers used near waterways that wash into the water causing higher nitrogen and phosphorous levels that trigger the algae growth.
Red tide is not a new phenomenon to Florida. Spanish settlers as far back as the 1700’s have reported sightings of red tide and wide spread fish kills in the southern Gulf of Mexico and on the Florida gulf coast back in the 1840’s, well before man has been polluting the waters. Red tide can last anywhere from a few weeks to over a year in some cases. Conditions that affect the algae bloom include water temperature, rain, sunlight, nutrients, ocean salinity, wind directions and ocean currents. Although Karenia Brevis is found almost exclusively in the Gulf of Mexico along the Florida coast, currents have carried the algae as far up the east coast to Delaware.
So what do you do if you live near these affected areas? If you live near the coastline where red tide is present and you have respiratory issues (asthma, chronic lung disease or other serious conditions) it is best to stay inside an air conditioned building. If you have to be outside use caution and where a mask to protect yourself. The algae bloom is a brevetoxin so it affects the central nervous system causing respiratory issues that can be extremely harmful to some people. Even people without chronic respiratory issues can be affected with watering eyes, runny nose and scratchy, irritated throat and skin rashes. Obviously beach-goers should avoid swimming in the affected waters completely, wear shoes if walking in the sand and avoid coming into contact with dead marine life that may already be infected. If you are already swimming in the ocean and become infected, get out immediately and rinse your body off as soon as possible. Also rinse off pets (body and mouth if possible) that come in contact with contaminated water.
As of last Monday, Florida Governor Rick Scott has declared a State of Emergency for the entire state. The state of emergency covers Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota, Manatee, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Funding to these counties includes over 1.3 million dollars going to Collier county alone. It is predicted that this outbreak will likely last until 2019 when ocean waters begin to cool off again.
Many of Florida’s businesses have begun to temporarily close their doors due to poor air quality (smell of dead fish) but there may be some help on the way. Researchers at the Mote Marine Laboratory have been testing a system in a canal in Ft Myers to remove the algae completely from the water. According to Mote Laboratory’s senior scientist Richard Pierce, “This system gets rid of the red tide, gets rid of the toxins, gets rid of the excess organic matter that’s decomposing, and it deoxygenates the water, so it’s really a win-win situation.”
The bloom is slowly making a trek northward so the concentration levels have begun to lower throughout the southeastern sections of Florida. If you live along the west coast of Florida you can track the red tide and get further information here.