Learning To Live With Red Tide

Concentrations of this organism (Karenia brevis) can reach millions of cell per quart of water during red tide events. Photo: FWC.

Check out the Beach Conditions Report

Since the devastating red tide of 2005, we have been fortunate in that there have only been infrequent minor red tide events along Florida’s southwest coast. During 2005, residents and tourists were subjected to what seemed like endless months of dead fish washing up on our beaches and beach-goers fled our beaches due to the respiratory distress caused by the neurotoxin produced by the red tide organism – the stench from rotting fish didn’t help matters. Newspapers trumpeted headlines about “dead zones” in the Gulf where essentially every living creature had died.

Red tide is caused by the presence of a microscopic plant-like organism that secretes a nuerotoxin.

Unfortunately, in recent months, there have numerous reports of red tide along Florida’s southwest coastline. We can only hope that we do not see a repeat of the 2005 red tide event during the upcoming year. Such severe red tides like we saw back then usually only occur once every several decades, but there are no guarantees.

Fish killed by red tide. Photo: Tony Reisinger

Red tide is a natural phenomenon.  Accounts of red tides have been reported since the days of the Spanish explorers. Currently, there is debate among scientists as to the extent to which nutrients in urban run-off prolongs and/or intensifies red tide events. Following the red tide of 2005 several local governments have adopted ordinances aimed at trying to reduce nutrient enrichment of run-off by regulating the use of lawn fertilizers. However, even if such measures prove to be effective in reducing the severity of red tide, we will never completely eliminate red tide.

Now we have a tool to help us cope with red tides. Thanks to the Internet you can quickly check the Beach Conditions Report. This website provides a real-time assessment of how severely red tide is affecting local beaches (reports on individual beaches are supposed to be updated twice a day). Information is provided on whether dead fish are present and whether beach-goers are experiencing respiratory problems.

How is this helpful? Let’s say you were thinking of spending a day at the beach or perhaps just enjoying dining at a waterfront restaurant. A few days ago or perhaps last week you remember hearing something about there being red tide in local waters. The prospect of coughing and smelling rotting fish causes you to abandon your plans. However, by checking the Beach Conditions Report you can determine if this is really necessary.

It is important to note that red tide conditions can change from day to day and from beach to beach as water currents sweep the red tide along the coast. Perhaps conditions at your favorite beach have dramatically changed in the past week or even from a few days ago. Perhaps you see that red tide is indeed present at the beach, but conditions at a beach just 10 miles away are fine and you can still take the kids to the beach. My experience has been that this is indeed possible. For example, today (2/28/2013) beach-goers at Siesta Key can expect to experience some slight respiratory distress, but everything seems fine at the Manatee Co. beaches.

We may not be able to completely eliminate red tide, but at least now you can easily obtain the information you need to make good decisions on your water related activities during red tides.

Want more Red Tide information? Check out these websites.

Charlotte Co. Sea Grant Red Tide Fact Sheet

FWC Red Tide Status Report and links to other Red Tide informational links

 

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 15 other subscribers

UF IFAS Extension


Florida Sea Grant Logo