Opinion: Red Tide must be addressed

Ben Newell

If you’re thinking about beautiful Florida beaches as a possibility for Winter Break, you might want to think again.

Florida is experiencing the worst Red Tide it’s seen in years and it’s heartbreaking.

Recently, hundreds of species of inshore and offshore fish are floating at the mouth of Tampa Bay and have piled up along Florida’s western shores spanning six counties and over a hundred miles of shoreline.

It reaches out as far as 40 miles offshore and so far, has killed large marine creatures including goliath groupers weighing up to 200 pounds, over 200 sea turtles, over 100 manatees, a dozen dolphins as well as a young whale shark.

There are potential health concerns for people being exposed to the Red Tide as well.

Airborne toxins that smell like ammonia and are produced by algae blooms can be especially dangerous for people with respiratory issues.

When inhaled by beachgoers, the toxins can cause coughing, sneezing, itchy throats and in some people severe headaches and asthma attacks. Swimming in waters affected by the Red Tide can cause eye irritation as well. Another very concerning development is the increase in pet fatalities when animals are exposed to the effects of the Red Tide.

The Red Tide is small scattered colonies of microscopic algae which live in the Gulf of Mexico all year long.

Usually their numbers are so small they go undetected but sometimes in the summer or late fall when the water is warmer, the algae population 10 to 40 miles off the coast multiply quickly and explode into what is called a bloom.

The bloom, which under these conditions, grow more algae and spread quickly covering the water’s surface and staining it a rusty color giving the phenomena its name.

Winds and currents push it ashore. Not all algae are considered harmful, but the Karenia brevis algae which are the basis of the Florida bloom is known to produce harmful toxins which impact the food chain paralyzing fish gills and causing sea turtles, manatees and dolphins to get sick or die.

The algae blooms can also deplete oxygen from the water causing fish to die. Another issue adding to the expanse of the Red Tide this year is the human made algae blooms caused by polluted outflows that start inland and carry the problems of pollution to the coast.

Inland pollution, like septic tank and fertilizer runoff is either washed or diverted into the ocean where it fuels algal blooms causing a green sludge-like bloom running along the coast. Combine the naturally occurring Red Tide event with the ever-increasing problem of manmade blooms caused by pollution and you create the havoc that Florida is experiencing this summer.

The current Red Tide has lasted for  more than nine months. That is the longest life of a Red Tide since 2006.

Presently, the strong currents from Hurricane Florence are helping to spread and possibly prolong the devastation of this Red Tide. It has just shown up in the panhandle of Florida as well as off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas.

Padre Island National Park in Texas is monitoring the waters closely and looking to close beaches soon.

In parts of Florida, the tourism industry including fishing as a leisure activity has been adversely affected. Hotels and restaurants along the coast depend on fresh seafood, clean air, white sandy beaches and clear blue water to bring tourists to their locations.

People don’t want to stay where all they see are dead fish and dirty water. They don’t want to walk along the beach only to come away coughing or sneezing . As someone who has enjoyed the beauty and sheer pleasure of a week on the beautiful beaches of Florida, I am truly concerned that between climate changes and added human pollution our marine life and our lovely retreats are in danger of long-term damage and destruction.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that all coastal states have experienced the Red Tide and that it is unpredictable.

The algae have spread to coastal waters and canals, and they worry that because of this spread and added input from human pollution, the tides may start occurring more often.

The NOAA scientists are working to find ways to locate and forecast where the blooms may occur next so as to alert people in advance and prepare for the effects of the tide.

We need federal, state and local officials along with environmental organizations to work together to find ways to rid or inhibit the growth of harmful algae from oceans, coastal waters and inland canals to protect our health, beautiful beaches, marine life, and food source.

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