Toxic ‘Red Tide’ in Florida Is Killing Wildlife and Keeping People out of Water

Zachary Stieber
By Zachary Stieber
August 13, 2018US News
Toxic ‘Red Tide’ in Florida Is Killing Wildlife and Keeping People out of Water
Fish are seen washed ashore the Sanibel causeway after dying in a red tide in Sanibel, Florida on Aug. 1, 2018 . (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The devastating “red tide” in Florida has been killing tons of wildlife and keeping locals and tourists out of the water.

The toxic algae bloom has wreaked havoc across the state’s southern Gulf Coast, making it dangerous to swim and leaving a number of dead sea turtles, fish, and dolphins.

The bloom conditions for the algae started in November 2017 and the situation has steadily worsened since then.

“I’ve never seen it this bad,” said 31-year-old Heather Lamb of Venice told the Associated Press.

She’s a hairdresser and makeup artist who posted pictures on Facebook and other social media websites to raise awareness of the problem.

“I feel like it cleanses your soul to go to the beach. For me to not be able to go, it’s painful. I think a lot of people take for granted when they live in Florida. Some people save their paychecks for a whole year to come here.”

Red tide is a naturally occurring algae bloom, but it is affecting people and animals very badly this year, due to its unusual intensity.

The four hundred dead sea turtles found off the coast of Southwest Florida have been linked to the bloom, as have tons of dead fish and possibly the nine bottlenose dolphins that washed ashore dead in Sarasota County.

“It is very difficult for us to deal with this kind of stuff. This isn’t something we normally have to deal with on a daily basis,” said Venice Police Officer Paul Joyce, who believes the red tide caused the deaths, ABC reported.

“Red tide, unfortunately, is a very slow…very slow death. They’re basically suffocating,” he added.

NTD Photo
Red tide locations in southwest Florida. (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Harmful algal blooms, or HABs, occur when colonies of algae—simple plants that live in the sea and freshwater—grow out of control while producing toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The human illnesses caused by the red ride, though rare, can be debilitating or even fatal.

Red tide counts of over 1 million cells per liter have been recorded by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission; fish can be killed, and people can suffer respiratory problems when counts reach 10,000 cells per liter.

The Florida Wildlife Research Institute said that the number of dead and stranded sea turtles is nearly three times higher than average, indicating the devastating effects of the current red tide.

Locals and officials are also dealing with another algae problem, with blue-green algae, which affects freshwater, contaminating a number of waterways in the state.

NTD Photo
A Goliath grouper is seen washed ashore the Sanibel causeway after dying in a red tide in Sanibel, Florida on Aug. 1, 2018. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

This algae stems from agricultural and urban runoff, Steve Murawski, a marine science professor at the University of South Florida, told the Associated Press. Heavy rains caused Lake Okeechobee to discharge water containing the blue-green algae into a number of rivers and canals.

“Are they in fact related? That’s kind of an open scientific question,” Murawski said of the two types of algae blooms. “If you’ve got large nitrogen discharges, you could actually be fueling both the harmful algal bloom and the discharge of the blue-green algae. It’s an area of very active concern.”

A sample of the blue-green algae bloom taken on Aug. 2 in the St. Lucie River estuary contained toxins 10 times the level considered hazardous.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said that the sample contained the toxin microcystin at a rate of 110 parts per billion; the World Health Organization considers levels above 10 parts per billion to be hazardous in recreational contact, reported TC Palm.

NTD Photo
Water in the St. Lucie River is covered by a blue-green algae bloom plaguing the river as it accumulates at the St. Lucie Lock and Dam in Port Saint Lucie, Florida, on July 5, 2016. (Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images)

Microcystin can cause nausea and vomiting if ingested and rashes if touched or inhaled. Drinking the water can cause long-term liver disease and possibly severe diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in seven counties in early July over the blue-green algae.

As part of the $3 million emergency order, $700,000 was directed to Lee County to clean up the algae.

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