Red Tide Facts: Safety for Swimmers and Boaters
From fish to sea turtles to even a massive whale shark, hundreds of sea creatures have washed ashore on Florida’s beaches in recent weeks. The cause of this heartbreaking—and smelly—scene? Red tide.
What is Red Tide?
Red tide is caused by toxic concentrations of Karenina brevis, a type of algae. Though it does release neurotoxins, Karenina brevis grows naturally in the Gulf of Mexico. Its neurotoxins only become fatal when they are released in large quantities. This phenomenon, called an algal bloom, is sometimes the result of pollution, particularly fertilizer runoff.
When red tide occurs, the neurotoxins in the water can poison a wide array of aquatic life. It also causes the water to turn a reddish or brown color, hence the “red tide” moniker.
How Bad Is It?
Red tide is a relatively common event in Florida, but this year is taking a particularly bad toll. So far, the outbreak has killed an estimated 400 turtles, 10 groupers, 92 manatees, a shark, and hundreds of thousands of fish. Considering that many of Florida’s iconic animals are endangered, the massive loss might have a long-term effect on our wildlife.
This is also one of the longest red tide outbreaks since 2006, and one of the worst that Florida has seen in decades.
Is Red Tide Dangerous to Humans?
Even though most people probably don’t want to swim in water that is filled with dead fish, red tide is typically not dangerous to humans. It can cause respiratory issues and skin irritation in some people, and might cause complications for people with pre-existing breathing conditions. But overall, Florida’s beaches are still safe to enjoy during a red tide outbreak. The Gulf of Mexico is safe for swimming, boating, and other recreational activities.
How Can We Help?
If we want to keep enjoying Florida’s unique wildlife and relaxing waterways, we need to work at keeping it clean! One small way you can help combat red tide is by keeping Gulf of Mexico clean. When boating, take any trash to land and dispose of it, rather than throw it into the ocean. At the beach, toss any trash, like food wrappers or water bottles, into a nearby wastebasket rather than leaving them on the sand.
By preventing pollution and respecting marine life, you are making a different with a few simple actions!
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