Everything You Need To Know About The Florida Red Tide

Updated: Aug. 24, 2018 at 9:47 AM EDT
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It's been all over the news recently – the red tide. What is the red tide? What causes it? Where is it; is it only in Florida? We've got those answers and a lot more. Get everything you need to know about the red tide right here.

The red tide is the casual name for a harmful algal bloom (often abbreviated to HAB), which is essentially a high concentration of microscopic algae. While it is often seen as a reddish-brownish discoloration of the water when the HAB is in extremely high concentrations, the water can still be toxic even if the water appears normal. Red tides are harmful because the algae can deplete oxygen in the water and they produce toxins called brevetoxins, which has an effect on the central nervous system of many animals. These toxins are not limited just to sea life either. It is possible for the toxins to become airborne, causing respiratory irritation to humans, pets, and other wildlife.

The algae that causes red tide are always present in the Gulf of Mexico, they are just at a much lower concentration. What causes the multiplication of the blooms that causes red tides is not exactly known. It could simply be a mixture of seasonality that causes the right temperature, salinity, and light to kickstart the massive blooms. While more research needs to be done, there are some hypotheses that agricultural run-off near the creeks and rivers that empty into the ocean could help fuel the already-massive blooms.

Red tide can be dangerous to humans, and even more dangerous to pets and wildlife. It is not uncommon for the brevetoxins from red tide to cause widespread death to fish, sea turtles, marine mammals, and seabirds. This can result in some bad seafood, too. Breventoxins from red tide cannot be cooked out of seafood. They also have no color, odor or flavor. Because of this, harvesting shellfish and other "cleaners" of the sea is banned during the red tide. Fish are safe to eat provided they are caught when they are alive and only the muscle is eaten (which is most of the time). If you happen to consume tainted seafood, you can expect some of the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chills, muscle pain, tingling sensations, and headaches. If you breathe it in, you might experience some respiratory irritation that can last a couple of days, but might be more serious if you are suffering from other respiratory illnesses like asthma or COPD. And of course, swimming in it can cause skin and eye irritation. All of this goes for your pets too. So keep your pets out of the water, and if you live nearby, it's best to bring them indoors.

Red tides can occur all throughout the world, but they are often made up of different kinds of algae. The red tides associated with this article generally happen in the Gulf of Mexico, though not always in Florida. The red tide in the Gulf of Mexico happens almost every year, usually in the late summer or early fall and typically lasts only a few weeks, though sometimes they last much longer. Because the Gulf Stream wraps around Florida and travels up the east coast of the United States, there are occasionally reports of red tide along the East Coast, though it is rare. Right now, the red tide is most prevalent on the southwest coast of Florida from the southern part of Tampa Bay through Naples, Florida.

We all know that Florida’s economy relies heavily on tourism. In many cases, the red tide is responsible for tens of millions of dollars in losses as a result of redirected tourism. And of course, when you are planning on a beach vacation, you could be out some money or struggling for last minute changes. There are still plenty of Florida beaches with clean water to take a vacation to if you need to change your destination. Panama City Beach and Destin are two cities north of the current red tide epidemic with amazing beaches right on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. Myrtle Beach is also a popular destination for a beach vacation if you want to add a little more distance from the red tide.