Many beach goers, snorkelers and divers in the Sunshine State are standing by and watching in horror as countless animals wash up dead on Florida’s southwestern shore. The cause is an intense case of red tide. Here’s what you need to know about this serious environmental condition.
Red tide occurs when unusually high amounts of a harmful algae bloom. The algae contain harmful toxins that can kill fish and other marine life, as well as have a negative effect on humans. It turns the ocean a red or brown color, and when it’s as severe as it is right now in Florida, it causes beaches and local businesses to close, impacting far more than just the health of the marine life.
Red tide occurs every year, it just varies in severity. Many factors affect how severe the bloom is, including the levels of nutrients that the algae feed on, ocean currents and wind conditions. It just so happens that this year the elements have combined in a such a way that the bloom is incredibly severe.
Red tide can be extremely harmful to marine life when the algae is highly concentrated, as it is now. Thousands of dead fish have washed up on Florida’s shores, as well as sea turtles and even a 26-foot long whale shark.
Red tide’s effect on humans isn’t as severe, but it can cause skin irritation, burning eyes and if the toxins are inhaled it can cause coughing, wheezing and more severe respiratory issues for people who suffer from chronic issues like asthma. This year, the impact on humans is more financial than it is health. Many smaller businesses on Florida’s coastline have had to close temporarily, as the red tide has killed not only fish but also beach visitation.
It’s hard to say just how much longer the red tide will affect Southwest Florida. Technically, the bloom began last November and some estimates suggest that it could continue all the way into 2019. It really depends on water and wind conditions.
Sportsmen, business, and wildlife advocates alike are all hoping that Mother Nature takes care of the issue for us.