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If you are a Boater, Fisherman, Captain or maybe just someone who loves the ocean, you may be concerned about the Red Tide epidemic sweeping our beautiful Florida coast lines. We have all the latest information regarding this unfortunate phenomenon.
What is Red Tide?
Red Tide (A.K.A Harmful Algal Bloom) is a higher-than-normal concentration of a microscopic algal organism. This specific algae species is called Karenia brevis. HAB’s are algae that grow rather fast and form clustered populations of the bacteria that then travel along the coasts. It can then affect many aspects of the environment. K. brevis is a species of algae that, when in high enough quantities, affects the central nervous system of the local sea life.
When the concentration of the “Red Tide” bacteria is high enough, the water can become a red-ish, brown-ish or even yellow-ish hue; but don’t be fooled by the color of the ocean, the water can stay it’s cool blue color even through some of the highest concentrations. K. brevis is always present in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s when the algae grows excessively, like in our current state, that it can harm the environment, sea and land animals, and even humans.
Where is it safe to Boat?
It’s important to note that freshwater lakes and the saltwater areas located near freshwater inlets will be free of Red Tide. The absence of salinity makes it nearly impossible for Red Tide to creep too far into the rivers and estuaries. The algae can only survive in pure saltwater.
If you live in the Port Charlotte area, then look to boat near the north end of Charlotte Harbor. That area has been clear of algae and will continue to be free of the bloom because of the large amount of fresh water that enters that area.
Lakes will be a nice place to escape the bloom, but still get out on that boat you can’t wait to take out. Freshwater species should be plentiful and consumable. Yes, there is a reason to stay clear of the areas affected by this bloom but there are still areas inside the bays and freshwater inlets that are free and clear of the algae bloom.
What are the Affected Areas?
Red Tide happens almost every summer in Florida. It generally occurs between the months of July and October. However, a “State of Emergency” was declared this August after the major impacts in Lee, Charlotte, Collier, Sarasota, Manatee, Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties. The locations mentioned above have had a surplus of marine life deaths, excessive Red Tide contamination in the ocean, and lack of business with local industries.
This bout of Red Tide has swept from Naples in the south and up towards Anna Maria Island in the north on the western coast of Florida. It’s been thriving since October 2017! Red Tides have been known to last from as little as a few weeks to over a year and can remit and reoccur at a varying rate.
What Caused this Long Battle of Red Tide?
There are several factors that can cause the algae to grow and flourish; mostly, natural factors such as water with high nutrient contents and/or surface water that has a higher-than-normal temperature. However, this time the cause seems to be a mix of natural and manmade issues. When hurricane Irma hit the west side of Florida in late 2017, it caused excessive nutrient rich pollution to drain into all local waterways, fresh and saltwater alike. Additionally, Lake Okeechobee became filled to the brim because of Irma. The lake needed water to be drained to relieve The Hoover Dike. It was teeming with Blue-Green algae which mixed with the Red Tide algae, making the surrounding area toxic.
Scientists have yet to solidify any “real” cause of this toxic 10-month outbreak. They however, are working on various solutions to treat the blooms. They are hesitant because they don’t quite know the environmental impacts of their solution yet. For now, it looks like this Red Tide will continue moving its way up North.
What Precautions Should We Take?
If you still would love to get out on the water or venture near our beautiful Florida coast lines, then be sure to prepare yourself before you go. Bring plenty of freshwater and rinse the saltwater off frequently. If you’re on the beach then bring several towels. One to dry off with from the ocean and the other to dry off after you rinse. It’s suggested to bring eyewear to block any saltwater from irritating your eyes. If you are asthmatic, make sure to bring your inhaler. Respiratory issues have been reported. If you do see beaches that have dead fish on shore or freshwater ways that have excessive Blue-Green algae, then be extra careful and stay clear of the area and position yourself upwind from the bloom.
If you live near the coast and have outdoor pets, you should consider bringing them inside until the bloom has dispersed. These last 2 months have been the roughest yet for this Red Tide epidemic. When the waves agitate the algae, the particles can be aerosolized and can travel in the air to nearby homes. Take a little more caution this time of year before taking your dogs to the dog beach or allowing them to spend too much time out in the backyard.
You can always check the local government fishing regulations website to find out which locations are unsafe.
Environmental Impacts and What You Can Do to Help!
A “State of Emergency” has been administered to Florida in the event of the recent fish deaths and the rise in respiratory issues reported. There has also been an economical drop-off of tourist and retail interaction. Gov. Rick Scott’s S.O.E. declaration will provide over $1.3 million in relief effort grants, $500,000 to aid in the pickup of tourism in affected areas and $100,000 in extra funds for Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium to increase its efforts in responding to the Red Tide resolution. Governmental and statewide efforts have been in full swing since the bloom picked up its wrath more than 3 months ago.
Locals have already arranged a quiet, peaceful protest that consisted of hundreds to thousands of people along 35 different Florida beaches. The protest was titled “Hands Along the Water,” where the participants held hands at 10:15am for 15 minutes to let the public know that they weren’t standing for it and desperately needed help. This effort paid off, because shortly after the peaceful protest, or shall we call it a “cry for help,” Governor Rick Scott announced his “State of Emergency” order.
If you would like to be part of the helping hands, visit your location’s volunteer services sites and signup to help clean up your favorite beach.
We’re sure you are as tired of this Red Tide break out as we are. Good news in on the way. Between the millions of dollars added to the relief effort, the freeing up of scientists’ time to diagnose and treat, and the out pour of volunteer help, this year’s ravenous Red Tide should be under control soon.
Disclaimer – Updated Fishing Regulations:
Snook and Redfish have been demoted to catch-and-release until further notice (next earliest update with be Sept. 26th). The effect is in place for these locally Red Tide affected areas: Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee and Collier Counties. To get a little more specific, the range is from Gordon Pass in Collier, all the way up to the most northern point of Anna Maria Island.
The next update will be next month when the Fish & Wildlife Commission (FWC) meets on September 26th, 2018. However, it is highly likely they will extend the restriction until Red Tide has cleared up.
To be safe, check back in with the FWC on September 26th to see the actual verdict.