AUG 24, 2018 9:44 AM PDT

What's the deal with Florida's red tide?

Have you ever seen a red tide? If you live in Florida near the coast, it’s unlikely that you’ve been able to avoid them. But do you really understand what red tide is and why it happens? Let’s dive deeper into the source of this phenomenon to really get closer to the reason behind the stink.

Red tide in Florida is caused by algae called Karenia brevis, which live mostly in the Gulf of Mexico. When these algae die, they release neurotoxins which, when ingested, can kill fish and other marine mammals. The neurotoxins attack the nerve cells of the animals, often resulting in fatalities and even humans can get sick upon consumption of shellfish that have the toxins. Off the west coast of Florida, fish, sea turtles, seabirds, manatees, sharks, and dolphins have all been found dead as a result of those toxins released by the algae.

Currently, the west coast of Florida is experiencing the most severe episode of red tide in over a since, with persistent effects for the last nine months. Depending on currents, winds, and temperature, among other anthropogenic and unknown factors, a red tide event can last anywhere from several weeks to over a year. There is no known way to get rid of red tide, and though there have been several stories about red tide being a beneficial occurrence in marine ecosystems in the long run, the immediate impacts are clearly drastic.

Red tide is also affecting humans, and not just those beach-goers wanting to swim. Winds can blow the toxins to the beach and shore and cause respiratory problems such as persistent coughing and even asthma attacks. During the past red tide event on the west coast of Florida, hospitals have seen a 50% rise in people going to the hospital for respiratory problems and a 40% rise in people going for gastrointestinal problems.

Meanwhile, though we know this is a naturally-occurring event, we’re still not sure what caused the severity of this particular episode. A statement from NOAA explains that “While red tides aren’t fully understood, scientists are working hard to determine what can trigger them. It is believed that increased nutrients in the water, pollution, water flow modifications and climate change all play a role.” Are you a Floridian? What’s your opinion on the red tide situation? Feel free to join the conversation and leave your comment below!

Sources: CNN

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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