When the Water turns Red - Red Tide is around
Most of the time, Red Tide is way off the coast. It often starts miles away from the beach. If wind and current favor the people who live on the coastline (and not the algae), it doesn't cause any trouble. However, if the plume of Karenia Brevis reaches the shoreline, all hell breaks loose. This tiny plant will affect everybody who comes close to the water. For residents who live by the water, it can be devastating. They have to cope with the smell all day long for weeks or months. For tourists it is not that bad because they can leave the beach and go shopping instead.
What is red tide? It is an specific algae bloom found in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Although this statement is not correct, this red algae can be found all over the world.
Karenia Brevis is the Culprit
"Harmful algae 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. The human illnesses caused by HABs, though rare, can be debilitating or even fatal." (NOAA, What is red tide.)
Karenia Brevis (K. brevis), a tiny red algae, is the culprit causing red tide. They usually live peacefully in the water and cause no problem unless something triggers exponential growth, turning the water into a brownish-reddish mess. When dying, they are releasing a potent toxin that kills every living creature in the water. The toxin causes a burning sensation in the lungs and airwaves of humans, and people with asthma or other chronic illnesses better stay away from the beach.
Other algae can also cause trouble. Brown and Blue Algae often create a stinky, slimy mess. That is also bad, however, the released toxins of the red algae are by far the worst experience.
It can last far too long
Fish, even dolphins and manatees, are dying, and the rotting fish smell doesn't make the situation any better. Usually, the terrible smell affects only the residents residing close by the shore and the beachcombers. However, in rare cases, the scent is so intense that it can be noticed many miles inland.
Dead fish floating in the water and fish rotting on the beach are unmistakable red tide signs. Usually, you have spots or pockets of red tide, but in certain years, the whole coastline from Fort Myers to Anna Maria Island can be affected. It is not uncommon to last for weeks or months.
Nobody knows Everything - but many know Something
Unfortunately, there is no way to predict when the algae bloom is going to happen. In some years, it can be a plague; in other years, there is not even a hint of it. What is precisely causing red tide? Nobody knows for sure, but fertilizer run-offs from the mainland are contributing to the algae bloom. Since 2008, the local government has put a law prohibiting fertilizer use during the rainy season. Does it help? It seems so. There was no red tide at all for some years, but last year it was terrible again. The smell was lingering around for months. Therefore, there must be something else triggering the growth, something nobody has identified so far.
Water release from Lake Okeechobee may trigger the algae bloom, fertilizer may do it, extremely warm water may be the cause, and a change in the current may also contribute to the exponential growth. Many older homes close to the beach have leaking septic tanks, and there may also be other factors contributing to the misery. Scientists from Mote Marine are trying to connect the dots, and hopefully, they will come up with a cure. Red Tide in Paradise - something is not right.
Red Tide information: Mote Marine Laboratory (941) 388-4441 or http://www.mote.org