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Red Tide Facts

St. Petersburg, Fla.  (August 7, 2018)  Like you… we’re keeping a close eye on a concerning bloom of the Florida Red Tide organism, Karenia brevis.  It has persisted all summer in Southwest Florida – and it appears to be moving north. 

Red tide is an algae that occurs naturally in the Gulf that can cause respiratory irritation when it accumulates in large amounts. Blooms develop offshore and are brought inshore by currents and winds, usually in bottom waters. While there is no direct link between nutrients related to human activity and the initiation of blooms, once blooms get closer to shoreline areas, nutrient sources (like lawn fertilizers) can fuel them.

Toxins in red tide can enter the air and cause respiratory irritation among beachgoers, such as coughing, sneezing or a scratchy throat, according information on the Mote Marine Laboratory website. Mote scientists conduct year-round monitoring of Bay area waters.

In a report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) last week (August 3, 2018), K. brevis was observed at background concentrations in two samples collected from Pinellas County.  According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute at FWC, the current Red Tide bloom actually began in November, 2017.  

But according to this timeline, Red Tide is not a recent phenomenon at all, with stories of toxic “red water” and the resulting death of birds and fish dating back to the 1500s. And despite their long history, scientists have yet to figure out how to control them.

The Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County wants residents and visitors to keep these things in mind as red tide persists in the area:

  • People who visit red tide areas may notice varying degrees of throat, eye and nose irritations. Symptoms tend to go away after people leave the area where red tide is present.
  • People with chronic or severe respiratory conditions, such as lung disease or asthma, should avoid areas with active red tides.
  • Swimming is generally considered safe when red tide is present, but people should know that some swimmers may experience skin and eye irritation.
  • Beachgoers should avoid swimming in areas where dead fish have washed up onshore.
  • The harvesting of distressed or dead fish is not advised.
  • Pets may also suffer skin irritations if they swim in waters with red tide. Fur and paws should be rinsed off with fresh water after contact, the health department wrote. Pets should also be kept away from dead fish and they shouldn't be allowed to drink the water.

To find out the latest conditions on local beaches, check out Mote Marine's online tracking tool. To find out more about red tide and its presence in Florida, visit FWC online.

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