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The Red Tide Phenomenon

Olivia Hemmings, Staff Writer

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Red Tide:

noun

A discoloration of water caused by a bloom of toxic red dinoflagellates.

 

Simple plants that inhabit seas and lakes grow out of control, harming fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds. The human illnesses caused by Harmful Algae Blooms, though rare, can be debilitating or even fatal. This naturally occurring phenomenon has been seen in southwestern Florida as early as the 1700’s, typically appearing in late summer or early fall and retreating within the following season.

This year’s cycle, however, is raising concerns among scientists, environmentalists, and the public alike. Allen Foley, a wildlife biologist at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission stated that “It’s the longest and strongest [red tide] since 2006, when it lasted 17 months”. Scientists generally agree that these blooms are getting worse, intensified by agricultural runoff and warming weather. This sparks national concern because it not only affects the health of people and marine ecosystems, but could exterminate entire aquatic species.

Already threatened turtle species have tragically been affected the most, with 354 sea turtles found killed, injured or sick since July; an all-time high for a single red tide, Mr. Foley said. Florida manatees have also suffered greatly – 115 found dead. Larry Brand, a professor of marine biology and ecology at the University of Miami, explained that red tides are about 15 times worse than they were 50 years ago, due to man-made nutrients, the amount of which continues to grow as coastal areas become more developed. Discharge into these major lakes, where adjacent land has high concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizers has increased as well.

“The large increase in runoff this year has led to the red tide getting pretty bad,” stated Foley.

This bloom, like many HABs, is caused by microscopic algae that produce toxins which kill fish and make shellfish deadly to anything that consume them, while the surrounding plants absorb the poisoned water, rendering them toxic as well. The toxins could also make surrounding air nearly impossible to breathe. This bloom of algae, much like the name suggests, causes ocean waters to turn a deep red. Both a scientific concern and an ominous sign of what environmental problems are yet to come.

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The Red Tide Phenomenon