Red Tide: Is It Finally On Its Way Out?
If you’re currently living in the state of Florida, chances are you’ve been affected by red tide this summer. The West Coast of Florida has been hit the hardest, with the first severe bloom of red tide spreading through the Gulf of Mexico this past June, pushing Gov. Rick Scott to declare a State of Emergency, making national headlines. Dead fish and wildlife littered beaches, cloudy, toxic water lapped the shores, and residents suffered from upper respiratory and eye irritation. Tourists have steered clear of the coasts and local businesses felt the loss this past Fourth of July and Labor Day.
As Floridians, we’ve experienced the effects of red tide in previous years, but what made this year’s bloom so much worse? The first intense bloom of the year appeared off the coast of Sarasota in June, but scientists say it never really went away from October of last year, creating a convergence of old and new blooms.
“Scientists widely agree red tide, made up of Karenia brevis algae, gets seeded offshore at the bottom of the Florida shelf, then carried inshore by bottom currents. As the algae gets close to coastal waters polluted by a host of sources, from farm and lawn fertilizer to leaky septic tanks, it [is believed] it can grow more intensely and create toxic blooms.”1
What is not clear is whether factors such as nutrient runoff, warmer waters tied to climate change, and man-made pollution is causing red tide, or simply feeding and prolonging the bloom, and more research is needed in order to fully answer this question. Other contributing factors could include the impacts of hurricanes on deep water oscillations, Sahara dust, and heavy rainfall.
Recently, the bloom has begun to slowly move a few hundred yards off the coast, bringing a welcome relief. The National Weather Service also dropped its hazardous beach conditions advisory for several Southwest Florida counties.2
There are a few valuable resources available if you’d like to monitor the progress of this year’s bloom. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission releases a weekly report on the current status of red tide, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issues Harmful Algae Bloom forecasts for Florida and Texas. Mote Marine also dedicates resources to researching and monitoring red tide and developed the Beach Conditions Report, a useful source for the public to follow what’s happening on the shores of the 26 Gulf Coast beaches in Florida.