What it means for sea life and the local economy

Quick notes

  • Harmful algae blooms multiply at rapid rates and produce toxic blooms.

  • Water quality experts also believe farm runoff is triggering the explosive growth.

  • During the bloom last year, the tourist-driven economy of south Florida saw vacant beaches and beachfront restaurants as hundreds of dead fish piled onto the shore.

Southwest Florida is watching and waiting for another invasion of the deadly red tide. Just one year after the last invasion rolled in killing wildlife and costing the fishing and tourism industry millions in revenue, it looks like there will be a repeat occurrence.

The hardest-hit will include the areas near Collier, Charlotte, and Sarasota counties. This guide will outline what causes this explosive growth and what it means for the Florida shoreline and economy.

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 What causes the red tide?

Algae blooms are a normal and healthy part of the ocean ecosystem. The tiny plants provide food for ocean animals and are essential to life under the sea. Harmful algae blooms, however, are known as HABs. HABs multiply at rapid rates and produce toxic blooms to ocean mammals, birds, fish, shellfish, and humans.

Karenia Brevis is the organism that causes red tide. While it occurs naturally in the Gulf of Mexico, scientists believe that it actually feeds from excess nutrients coming from the Florida Everglades. The Everglades stretches from roughly Orlando to the Florida Keys.

Water quality experts also believe farm runoff is triggering the explosive growth. The runoffs from farms contain phosphorus and nitrogen.

How the red tide affects wildlife

So far, the bloom this year is far less extensive than last year. While it is less deadly than the previous outbreak, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is warning shore communities about the potential dangers.

The commission is reporting that this latest outbreak is still strong enough to kill several species of wildlife that reside in these coastal habitats. Area animal conservatories near Naples have been seeing seabirds with symptoms of being contaminated with toxic algae.

In a horrific bloom in 1996, over 149 manatees died. Previously, a bloom killed over 740 bottlenose dolphins off the coast of Florida. When toxic algae are present in the ocean ecosystem, fish consume it and larger mammals and sea birds become sick from consuming the fish.

The toxic bloom last year killed millions of eels and fish. Hundreds of sea turtles, dolphins, and birds also died. The bloom was even responsible for killing a whale shark that was over 27-feet.

The red tide is dangerous for humans as well

The red tide isn’t just dangerous for marine life. People off the coast of Southwest Florida are also in danger. Not only can algae be harmful to you on the outside, but it is also dangerous to consume and harmful to the local economy.

A bad bloom of algae can harm swimmers by irritating their eyes, skin, and respiratory systems. These algae can cause respiratory problems as well as skin irritations when you come in contact with contaminated waters.

For people who have asthma or other preexisting respiratory conditions, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that toxic blooms can be even more dangerous. Another problem for the area comes from people who eat contaminated fish. This crushed the local economy during last year’s bloom. When an algae bloom occurs, you may see the effects for weeks or even months.

During the bloom last year, the tourist-driven economy of south Florida saw vacant beaches and beachfront restaurants as hundreds of dead fish piled onto the shore.

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