What is a Red Tide?

In the spring of this year, my family planned a trip to one of my late grandfather’s favorite vacation spots in Florida to celebrate his life. In the summer months, something began popping up over and over again in the news: red tide. Two weeks before our trip, we, along with many other families and residents, were forced to move locations and travel further south as the tide became worse.  Over the last few months, Florida has experienced the worst red tide the state has had in years. But what exactly is red tide and what effects does it have?

Red tide is the result of a large growth of algae in the ocean and this particular type of algae, Karenia brevis, gives off a reddish color giving the occurrence its name. These tides can last anywhere from a few weeks to more than a year. The current tide in Florida started in October 2017 and nearly a year later, there’s no sign of it slowing down.  Although a red tide is a natural phenomenon, many believe that is strengthened by agricultural runoff from land that is made worse by intense storms, such as Hurricane Irma last year.

These blooms are disastrous for the wildlife because of the release of brevetoxins. The toxins affect the nervous systems of fish and other mammals such as manatees and dolphins cause them to die. As of August 28, more than 2,000 tons of dead marine animals were removed from the coast including 80 manatees, hundreds of turtles and 26-foot-long whale shark.

In addition to the devastation of the wildlife in the area, it has been causing physical effects for those who live in the area. Other than the smell of what had washed ashore, the red tide releases toxins into the air that cause respiratory irritation, especially for those who have existing illnesses. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, these toxins can also cause Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning for those who consume contaminated shellfish. With Florida being a popular destination for people all across the country, especially Ohio, these factors have severely affected areas like Sarasota County that thrive on tourism. According to a survey that was conducted by the local convention and visitors bureau, small-business revenue fell 50 percent and some business owners reported that they lost nearly $90 million and laid off hundreds of workers.

With no solid end in sight, the state of Florida is scrambling for solutions and answers for this toxic algae bloom. Only time will tell what the long-term effects will be for marine life and the coastal residents of Florida.

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