By Taylor Paynter and L. Scott Jackson | UF/IFAS Extension | Special to The News Herald
What is Red Tide?
“Red Tide” describes the harmful algal bloom (HAB) which results from a high concentration of single-celled algae called Karenia brevis, often abbreviated as K. brevis. These blooms are naturally occurring and are found in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, and can turn water a red or brown hue.
Winds and ocean currents often carry the algae along the Gulf Coast. Episodes of red tide have been documented in the United States from Texas to North Carolina on the Atlantic Coast. Although there is no direct link between nutrients related to human activity (for example, sewage and runoff) and the initiation of blooms, once blooms are transported inshore, these nutrient sources can fuel them.
Impacts to our Coast and Beaches
The effects of red tide are felt throughout ocean ecosystems and our coastal communities. K. brevis creates a neurotoxin that is concentrated in various organs of shellfish, finfish, marine mammals and sea turtles. At high concentrations, red tide can cause large fish kills and animal mortality.
K. brevis releases an aerosol that causes irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, and numbness of the lips and tongue in humans. Individuals with asthma and other upper respiratory conditions should try to avoid red tide areas because of the aerosol production.
The economic impact of red tide on Florida coastal communities is a major concern. Red tide has a negative impact on fishing, beach attendance and waterfront restaurant sales. Blooms can cause aesthetic problems in coastal areas, dumping thousands of smelly, dead fishes on tourist beaches. This comes at a cost to communities in regard to cleanup and local tourism.
Several studies conducted by the University of Florida and Florida Sea Grant have documented economic hardship for coastal businesses and communities. The magnitude of such economic losses will depend upon the severity and duration of the red tide event.
Additional studies are determining how red tide has impacted the state, particularly regarding shellfish populations and the tourism industry. Shellfish, including clams, oysters, and mussels can accumulate brevetoxins. Brevetoxins have no taste, smell or color, and cannot be destroyed by cooking. If contaminated shellfish are eaten, people can become ill with Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning (NSP). Shellfish harvesting from regulated areas is banned during blooms of K. brevis.
How you can help
Every 10 years or so, Florida experiences a super bloom event. Scientists are not exactly sure what causes it, but several hypotheses exist.
The most recent super bloom lasted from September 2017 until January 2019. The Public Issues for Education Center at the University of Florida is pursuing further research into the economic impacts of this super bloom.
We are looking for volunteers in Bay County to participate in a study via Zoom on June 22 from 5-6:30 p.m. Participants will be compensated for their time and input with a gift card.
Results from this study will help researchers characterize this recent red tide event and help develop possible strategies for future red tide events. To register, visit http://bit.ly/redtidepc and for additional details call UF/IFAS Extension Bay County at 850-784-6105.
“Extension Connection” is provided each month by the UF/IFAS Extension Bay County.