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Red Tide Scourges Florida’s Southwest Coast

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

September 7, 2018 — Down in Southwest Florida residents have been seeing red this summer – as in red tide. This disturbing scourge is the worst it has been in more than a decade. It has killed huge amounts of marine life as well as cost millions in lost tourism dollars in communities like Marco Island. One charter boat captain there says his business is down 80%; to stay busy he has been volunteering to assist researchers out on the water.

In a 120 mile stretch of coast work crews have been spending their mornings cleaning up fish kills on the beach. The organism in red tide releases a deadly toxin that kills marine life like fish and shellfish, along with dolphins, sea turtles, pelicans, and loggerhead turtles. Local animal clinics are experiencing abnormal numbers of injured creatures being brought into their facilities for treatment. Tourists are staying away from the bad smells and air irritants.

Currently the red tide exists in a long stretch from Pinellas County (Tarpon Springs above St. Petersburg) south to Naples and into Collier County. Its appearance is not uniform, but varies in intensity from area to area. Observations of greater than 1,000,000 K. brevis cells per liter ( very “high” concentrations) occurred in samples collected in or offshore of Hillsborough, Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties, but not in Pinellas, Manatee or Sarasota counties.
See map below:

red tide map

Red tide map Sep 2018

To answer some of the most common questions about it, we are reprinting some information from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission below. For even more information go the FL Fish & Wildlife Commission FAQ page.

What is a red tide?
A red tide, or harmful algal bloom, is a higher-than-normal concentration of a microscopic alga (plantlike organism). In Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, the species that causes most red tides is Karenia brevis, often abbreviated as K. brevis. To distinguish K. brevis blooms from red tides caused by other species of algae, researchers in Florida call the former the “Florida red tide.”

Are red tides red?
At high enough concentrations, Florida red tide can discolor water a red or brown hue. Blooms caused by other algal species can appear red, brown, green or even purple. The water can also remain its normal color during a bloom.

Is red tide a new phenomenon?
No, red tides were documented in the southern Gulf of Mexico as far back as the 1700s and along Florida’s Gulf coast in the 1840s. Fish kills near Tampa Bay were even mentioned in the records of Spanish explorers.

How long do Florida red tides last?
Red tides can last as little as a few weeks or longer than a year. They can even subside and then reoccur. The duration of a bloom in nearshore Florida waters depends on physical and biological conditions that influence its growth and persistence, including sunlight, nutrients and salinity, as well as the speed and direction of wind and water currents. Tropical Storm Gordon that passed through recently seems to have helped reduce the problem.

Has coastal (nutrient) pollution caused the Florida red tide?
Florida red tides develop 10-40 miles offshore, away from man-made nutrient sources. In contrast to the many red tide species that are fueled by nutrient pollution associated with urban or agricultural runoff, there is no direct link between nutrient pollution and the frequency or initiation of red tides caused by K. brevis. Red tides occurred in Florida long before human settlement, and severe red tides were observed in the mid-1900s before the state’s coastlines were heavily developed. However, once red tides are transported inshore, they are capable of using man-made nutrients for their growth. The redirection of fresh water flow from Lake Okeechobee has probably not been helpful.

Why are red tides harmful?
Many red tides produce toxic chemicals that can affect both marine organisms and humans. The Florida red tide organism produces brevetoxins that can affect the central nervous system of fish and other vertebrates, causing these animals to die. Wave action can break open K. brevis cells and release these toxins into the air, leading to respiratory irritation. For people with severe or chronic respiratory conditions, such as emphysema or asthma, red tide can cause serious illness. The red tide toxins can also accumulate in molluscan filter-feeders such as oysters and clams, which can lead to Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning in people who consume contaminated shellfish.

Comments? Has the red tide made you nervous about retiring to Southwest Florida? Or if you live there already, has it affected your way of life? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

For further reading:
FL Fish and Wildlife info on Red Tide




Posted by Admin on September 7th, 2018

9 Comments »

  1. My Aunt lives in North Naples/Bonita Springs and has been telling me for weeks how severe the red tide is. Also the green algae that has invaded the canals and creates a thick green foam is killing fish and even the manatees. The stench from the fish on the beaches has affected those who have beach homes and apparently residents cannot even walk outside their homes–the air is so full of the smell from dead fish that have washed up on the beach. My Aunt is grateful not to be near a canal or the beach–five miles away–but it does affect the quality of life for those who want to go to the beach for the day or just walk it. She is afraid that it will affect the tourism industry this Fall and Winter and a few people are selling their homes and moving elsewhere. There are so many people who go south for the winter months to their homes and if they have been away they may be in for a nasty surprise.

    by Jennifer — September 8, 2018

  2. I wasn’t worried about red tide since I wouldn’t be in Florida until November, and haven’t heard anything about it lately but now November isn’t that far away is any better or any worse?

    by Dennis — October 11, 2018

  3. I have a friend who lives in Sarasota. He said it’s improving and has been able to spend more time on the various beaches.

    by Laurel — October 12, 2018

  4. I asked my Aunt about the improvement in Naples, Florida last week and she said there it has NOT improved. The red tide is still killing fish and the stench is awful. Check out the exact location and how things are before heading to Florida this next season. The green algae in the canals is also a great cause for concern. They have been told that in years to come it may only get worse.

    by Jennifer — October 12, 2018

  5. I live in Fort Myers, FL and the past couple of days the red tide has been virtually gone from the entire coast from Marco Island on north past us to at least Sarasota. We may not be completely free of red tide yet but we are headed in the right direction. Anyone can do a search for “red tide” and find a website in FL that shows updates almost daily of the whole state as to red tide status. As the weather and water temperatures cool that should help our situation. But if you are planning on heading this way for the winter check with where ever you are staying or with friends.

    by TONI OLSEN — October 12, 2018

  6. Can anyone give an update about red tide? We will be leaving for Florida right after Thanksgiving and going down the west coast to the Tampa Bay area. The beaches important to us and hope to spend time there everyday.

    by dennis — November 17, 2018

  7. I think that the red tide has now resolved itself. I am not sure about the green algae in the canals, however. My Aunt in Naples said that the snowbirds are returning as usual so I suspect you will be OK. Check the local news of where you are headed.

    by Jennifer — November 18, 2018

  8. Check out the current red tide status here:
    http://myfwc.com/redtidestatus

    by Tom — November 18, 2018

  9. Jennifer and Tom thanks so much for your quick replies-
    The link is a great help will use that often thanks again.

    by Dennis — November 18, 2018

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