You may have heard about the red tide algae phenomenon that has affected Southwest Florida. This is a type of harmful algal bloom (HAB) – simple marine plants that grow out of control and produce toxins typically 10-40 miles offshore.
Most of the time, the red tide is a temporary phenomenon lasting a few weeks, but in some cases, it can last longer. In humans, red tide algae toxins can cause respiratory symptoms directly or indirectly, and they can be toxic or fatal to a variety of marine animals.
While not all red tides have toxins, many do. Further, not all harmful algae blooms are red, some are blue-green or other colors, which is why experts are attempting to phase out the term “red tide” and replace it with the more accurate “harmful algal bloom” (HAB).
Red tide algae hit Florida’s Southwestern coast earlier this year. Recently, many beaches in Hillsborough and Pinellas County remain unaffected.
Other Southwest Florida beaches are affected on a daily basis depending on the tide, wind and water currents, and other oceanographic conditions.
The effort to monitor the algae has been impressive. The red tide has been carefully tracked by experts from the National Ocean Service who provide daily forecasts and Mote Marine which provides specific reports on beaches.
Milestones are being reached every day to recover and bounce back through focused conservation in Tampa and elsewhere.
What is red tide?
Red tide is a natural phenomenon that occurs when massive quantities of algae bloom out of control due to favorable conditions for their growth. The algae are known to have high concentrations of a natural toxin called brevetoxins. The toxins are stirred into the air by the breaking waves and winds where they cause respiratory irritation.
It is important to note that ocean water is not always red as a result of a red tide bloom, it can be varying shades including rusty orange, brown, or purple. The best thing to do is check the reports for the beach you plan on visiting to be certain if there is a red tide bloom nearby or not.
What does it do?
The toxins are harmful to local marine life. They can sometimes kill fish en masse. Larger mammals and other marine life can be affected. Mollusks, clams, and various shellfish can absorb the toxins, essentially making them poisonous. Manatees, sea turtles, dolphins, and birds (often through digesting the poisoned prey) can fall victim to red tide.
How does it affect humans?
Many people can swim safely with a red tide bloom nearby, but not all. Those who have respiratory problems such as asthma or emphysema should avoid waters with a red tide bloom. Young children and elderly people should often avoid red tide water as well as animals. Those who experience symptoms in the water should leave it.
Generally, red tide algae toxins can cause respiratory irritation in humans, which typically manifests as, bronchoconstriction, coughing, and wheezing. The effects may last upwards of a week. More commonly, a reaction will cause some irritation and coughing lasting for about an hour.
Are shellfish safe to eat?
Yes, commercially available shellfish in restaurants and grocery stores are carefully monitored by the state agencies. However, recreationally harvested shellfish may not be tested and are not guaranteed to be safe. Recreational harvesting is also banned during red tide closures.
What is the status of red tide now?
What is the status of the red tide now? It is safe to enter many beaches in the Tampa area, but the clean-up process is still ongoing in other areas of southwest Florida. Again, you will want to check with the National Ocean Service’s daily forecasts and Mote Marine’s specific reports on beaches.
Aptim is one of the companies involved with repairing and restoring the vitality of Florida’s gulf coast beaches. The company is deploying large equipment to remove any dead fish and marine animals along the coast.
To assist with smaller beaches and tighter passages where the equipment can’t fit, volunteers are being enlisted. Pitchforks, latex gloves, buckets and masks have been supplied to eager volunteers who want nothing more than a restored community.
This goes to show the love and passion for the local beaches and ecosystems. Large clean-up events have been scheduled in specific sites at least twice a week since the bloom.
New efforts are being developed to deter red tide development in the future. Scientists speculate that some types of gulf pollution may be responsible for the intensified algae, and efforts are being made to reduce it throughout Southwest Florida.
Progress is being made, and locals are coming out in large numbers to help restore the shores they love. Although most of Tampa area beaches remain in proper and pristine form, the rest of Southwest Florida is expected to follow suit in the near future.
If you are planning a trip to Tampa, know that many of the beaches here remain safe to visit as of now and that you can always be provided with up-to-date information if you choose us for your vacation rental needs.