It seems that the most recent Red Tide outbreak is finally receding. A report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission stated that as of February 22, 2019, “the red tide organism, Karenia brevis, was not observed in the samples collected over the past week.” Beginning in late 2017, this current eruption has lasted a little more than a year. While resident scientists know what the epidemic is and how it is caused, they still seem unable to limit the consequences associated with each occurrence.
Defining the Red Tide
First discovered along the Gulf Coast in the 16th century, Spanish sailors were intrigued by tales of the toxic red water and the mass deaths of the birds and fish as a result. The Red Tide itself is now known to be an abundance of the phytoplankton algae Karenia brevis in the local waters. This algae multiplies rapidly in warm water and thus can become a quick-spreading problem for Florida’s shores. While normally found in smaller quantities, the plantlike organism can suddenly and rapidly cover coastlines.
This latest outbreak did just that. Over the course of its reign, this most recent tide spanned five Florida counties and, at its worst, reached 20 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico.
Effects on the Environment
Unfortunately, having a high level of Karenia brevis in the local waters can result in a variety of problems for the wildlife and human populations. Human visitors to plagued areas have reported respiratory irritation symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, tearing, and an itchy throat. Those with pre-existing respiratory problems like emphysema or asthma are encouraged to avoid affected shores.
The fish and water fowl populations don’t fare well, either. As this form of algae decomposes, it consumes all of the oxygen present in the water around it. In particularly high concentrations, it can dangerously deplete the oxygen levels of the water and suffocate the fish. K. brevis also releases toxins that attack the central nervous system of fish and the animals consuming them. In July of 2018, 60,000 pounds of marine life were hauled onto the beaches of Sanibel Island where the Tide was particularly bad. The species affected included fish, sea turtles, dolphins, and manatees.
Effects on the Economy
With Florida’s economy being largely correspondent to the tourism rate, the state took a major hit in the last year. With the beaches plagued by K. brevis, many tourist locations along the coast saw increasing numbers of cancellations. Sanibel Island in particular was dealt a serious economic blow with the loss of $46 million in revenue during the summer of 2018. Cancelation rates on the island were as high as 80 percent in those three months and other sea-side establishments were affected in a similar way.
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