Red Tide

Red Tide

The only way you can keep me from going to the Sarasota beaches is during a hurricane event or when red tide is present. Currently many of the area beaches are experiencing red tide. For those who may not know what red tide is, according to Mote Marine, “red tide is a harmful algal bloom, that occurs when there is is a higher-than-normal concentration of a microscopic alga (plant-like organism). In marine (saltwater) environments along Florida’s west coast and elsewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, the species that causes red tides is Karenia brevis. To distinguish K. brevis blooms from red tides caused by other species of algae, researchers in Florida call it “Florida red tide.”

Picture is to give an idea of how the gulf can look when red tide is present.

Also according to Mote Marine, “In contrast to the many red tide species that are fueled by nutrient pollution associated with urban or agricultural runoff, there is no demonstrated direct link between nutrient pollution and Karenia brevis red tide formation or frequency (how often they occur). Florida red tides develop 10-40 miles offshore, away from human-contributed nutrient sources. Red tides occurred in Florida long before human settlement, some were documented in the southern Gulf of Mexico as far back as the 1700s and along Florida’s Gulf coast in the 1840s. Severe red tides were observed in the mid-1900s before the state’s coastlines were heavily developed. Fish kills near Tampa Bay were even mentioned in the records of Spanish explorers in the 1500s (related article: Timeline of Florida red tides off the west coast).

“However, once red tides are transported to shore, they are capable of using human-contributed nutrients for their growth.”

Many red tides produce toxic chemicals that can affect both marine organisms and humans. The Florida red tide organism, K. brevis, produces brevetoxins that can affect the central nervous system of fish and other vertebrates, causing these animals to die. This is why we see so many dead marine life in the water and washed along the shore. Wave action can break open K. brevis cells and release these toxins into the air, leading to respiratory irritation such as coughing, sneezing, tearing and an itchy throat. People with underlying chronic respiratory problems like asthma or COPD should avoid red tide areas all together. Swimming is safe for most people. However, the Florida red tide can cause some people to suffer skin irritation and burning eyes. Do not swim among dead fish because they can be associated with harmful bacteria. If conditions are deemed unsafe, most area beaches will issue a no swim advisory.

Red tides can last as little as a few weeks or longer than a year. They can even subside and then reoccur. The duration of a bloom in nearshore Florida waters depends on physical, chemical,  biological and ecological conditions that influence its growth and persistence, including sunlight, nutrients and salinity, as well as the speed and direction of wind and water currents. 

Red tide could be a real downer for those vacationing here and even for us locals. No one wants to miss out on experiencing our gorgeous beaches. Thankfully it is temporary and forces us to try new adventures that we otherwise wouldn’t have. Here is a short list of some of the things to do in the event you can’t get that perfect beach day:

  • Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (2 locations; Downtown Sarasota and Historic Spanish Point in Opsrey)
  • The Ringling Museum / Ca d’Zan Mansion
  • Mote Marine Aquarium
  • Saint Armand’s Circle (shopping and dining)
  • Myakka State Park
  • Sarasota Jungle Gardens
  • Baseball Game at Ed Smith Stadium (Baltimore Orioles Spring Training)
  • Bike Riding on the Legacy Trail
Ca d’Zan Mansion
Canopy Walk at Myakka State Park

So, hang in there folks. Hopefully this bout of red tide will be a short one and we can get back to our regularly scheduled programming of paradise.

To find out current red tide conditions: