The red tide, comes from the algae organism Karenia brevis. As far back as the 1700s it has been documented that the red tide has been reported in the Gulf of Mexico as well as in Florida’s Gulf Coast back in the 1840s.
A red tide is a natural phenomenon that develops miles offshore, as the red tide makes way to the coast, it feeds on a variety of pollutants. The runoff and wastewater of phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizers feeds the red algae that thrives in warm waters.
The widespread toxic Karenia brevis red tide bloom continues to threaten wildlife, killing thousands of fish and disrupting the Sunshine State’s tourism. The toxins can become aerosolized in the wind. In animals, the toxins affect the central nervous system, causing them to die.
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Red tides can also cause serious illness in people who have severe or chronic respiratory conditions worsening conditions such as asthma. People who swim in K. brevis-infested algae may experience irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. They may also find themselves wheezing, coughing, and experiencing shortness of breath.
People who then eat this shellfish may experience neurotoxic shellfish poisoning, a food poisoning that can be associated with severe stomach problems as well as tingling in fingers and toes.
The Florida red tide began affecting the state in October 2017. The toxic algae bloom that has left a trail of dead animals, killing hundreds of thousands of fish, hundreds of sea turtles, dozens of bottlenose dolphins, manatees and recently a whale shark.
The putrid stench of rotting fish along Florida's coastline shows no sign of abating. The toxic algae stretches for about 120 miles of Florida’s coastline, (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission).
The scientific community can not agree on whether climate change or pollution cause or feed this phenomena. Having said that researchers have reported that K. brevis has more prevalent, each time increasing in size, intensity, and persistence, likely due to increased agricultural pollution.
What can be done about the red tide?
Scientists at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota are working on a new "Ozone Treatment System." The device breaks down toxin-infested water, injects it with ozone and then pumps out clean water. This is helping, but the red tide is expansive and relenting.
Globally, less than 2 percent of the ocean is under protection. If we don’t change the way we do things, and fast, we are on track to cause irreversible damage to the ocean and it diverse marine life.
There are lots of ways you can support marine conservation, like the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF). Make a charitable contribution or better yet, get out there and do your part to keep our beaches clean. Start using less plastics and recycle your wastewater whenever possible.
We need to start becoming more concerned about water and how to stem the excessive pollution that is poisoning our oceans.
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Take action today to support water quality monitoring in your community by contacting your local government officials and ask them to support water monitoring legislation in your community.