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What is Red Tide?
Red Tide current status: http://myfwc.com/research/redtide/events/status/statewide/
Red tide is a condition found in the water that is caused by an overgrowth of a certain type of algae. It frequently causes fish to die and pile up on the beach, and causes humans to experience respiratory irritation and discomfort. It comes and goes. Sometimes we don't have it for several years. Sometimes it tends to linger for months. It is usually somewhat localized, meaning there may be a bad outbreak in Sarasota, while the beaches of Fort Myers are completely unaffected. How does it affect you? Well, sometimes the dead fish can pile up pretty deep on the beach. I don't have to tell you how bad that smells. Also there is a toxin in the air, released by the red tide algae, that causes mild respiratory irritation, or worse if you are particularly sensitive. If you have asthma or some other respiratory condition, STAY AWAY from the beach during red tide outbreaks. Pets can also be affected and should be kept away from red tide affected water and shoreline. Also, the dead fish on the shoreline create a breeding ground for bacteria. Always wear good shoes when walking on a shoreline with dead fish. Stepping on the fins or skeleton of a rotting fish with your bare feet will cause a very painful injury and possibly a very nasty and dangerous staph infection.
Cause and Effects of Red Tide Outbreaks
Red tide is caused by a huge bloom of tiny, single celled algae called Karenia brevis, They are microscopic plant-like cells called dinoflagellates that produce potent chemical neurotoxins These toxins kill fish, contaminate shellfish and create severe respiratory irritation to humans near affected waters. The water can take on a reddish tint, but it is very difficult to see it unless you are up in the air except when the concentration is extremely high.
Useful Resources for Information on Red Tide
To find out if red tide might be affecting a Florida beach you are planning to visit, go to the Mote Marine Laboratory website http://myfwc.com/research/redtide/events/status/statewide/ .
If you are looking for first-hand information about the status of red tide on Sanibel and Captiva, visit the forum at the BestOfSanibelCaptiva web site: http://forum.bestofsanibelcaptiva.com/
To check on the conditions at a specific beach, try Mote Laboratory's daily beach report site: http://coolgate.mote.org/beachconditions/
WHAT'S CAUSING ALL THIS RED TIDE?
I frequently hear people speculate that red tide is caused or at least aggravated by manmade pollution and alteration of the natural environment and that it occurs much more frequently now than it did in the past. The fact is that we really do not know what causes red tide to occur. I am not sure that it has been occurring more frequently now than in years past. I'm still looking into this.
History of Red Tide Outbreaks on the Florida Gulf Coast
If you visit this page on the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission site http://myfwc.com/research/redtide/archive/historical-database/timeline-red-tides-fl-w-coast/, you can view a chronology of known occurrences of red tide on the Florida Gulf Coast. The first recorded outbreak was in 1844. The fewest episodes in recent decades seemed to occur in the '70's and 'the 80's (not exactly the most pollution-free years). Starting in 2001, we seem to be experiencing red tide every year along some portions of the coast, although the fish kills are not what they were in the past (perhaps because there are less fish now?). Keep in mind that some years ago we did not have the information and communication network set up that we have today. These days if someone smells a dead fish in St. Pete on Sunday morning, the whole world knows about it by noon. So while it appears that red tides are occurring with greater frequency recently, it is possible that this just shows that they are more likely to be reported.
Here is a link to more Florida red tide historical information from the Fish & Wildlife web site: http://myfwc.com/research/redtide/archive/historical-database/fl-red-tide-historical-database/
What we know:
What scientists are doing:
What government is doing:
What some visitors are doing:
What smart visitors are doing:
There is a book called "Fisherfolk of Charlotte Harbor, Florida" by Robert F. Edic. Institute of Archaeology and Paleoenvironmental Studies, Univ of Florida, Gainesville, 1996. ISBN 1-881448-10-X. It is a book of oral histories taken by Mr. Edic of the old-timer fishermen and women of Charlotte Harbor. A portion of the book deals with red tide. It is obvious that the worst red tide any of them remembered was in 1947:
The fishermen make some other observations about red tide as well. First they point out that as far as they know, red tide has always been around. Some of them heard stories of the red tide as told by their parents. Back then it was often referred to as "poison water." They also mention that it seems to be happening more frequently now than it did in years past. One cannot ignore first hand observations from the people that spend their lives out on the water.
In the guest column in the July 27, 2005 Anna Maria Island Sun, Elizabeth Moss of Anna Maria wrote about the 1947 red tide: "The high tide started bringing in tangled masses of eels and thousands of small dead fish. Not knowing what to think, we neighbors gathered shovels and rakes and dug trenches and raked in the slimy eels and dead fish. ...Every day, more were washed in. I remember the odor of dead fish and the flies." According to Mrs. Moss, there was speculation at that time that the fish may have been killed by some poison gas bombs disposed of in the Gulf by the US Army. This was before Manatee County had any real experience with a major red tide.
I read an open letter to Jeb Bush, Governor of Florida, posted on a red tide oriented website, saying that the letter writer would not be bringing his family back to Florida because their vacation was not as enjoyable due to effects of the red tide. They were not warned or educated about the red tide and its effects. First, this is a completely understandable reaction. Florida does not do a good job of educating its visitors, possibly because of fears about the affects on tourism. So, many people get an unpleasant surprise. I would be ticked off too. But what people need to know is that Florida beaches aren't the only ones affected by red tide. Hawaiian Beaches, California Beaches, Mexico, and the Northeastern US Beaches all suffer periodically from red tide. In fact, some Northeastern US beaches were particularly hard hit this summer . Red tide happens in many countries around the world.
But people are right to ask tough
questions and to seek answers. Are we the ones causing it? If you are really concerned, why
don't you put your money where your mouth is? Make a donation to Mote Marine
Laboratory and designate that the donation is to be spent only on red tide
research. To make a donation online, go to http://www.mote.org
and click on their donate icon:
One thing is clear, there isn't enough research and their aren't enough people and resources to have a clear picture of how widespread the red tide really is and how it is affecting humans and wildlife.