Thursday, September 18, 2014

Red tide dangers for Florida

Strains of red tide crop up every year along Florida's coastline, but this year looks to be potentially more devastating with the strain called karenia brevis reeking havoc with marine life like fish, turtles, manatees and more. Right now, the algae is collecting in an area about 60 miles wide and 100 miles long, about 5 to 15 miles off St. Petersburg in the south and stretching north to Florida's Big Bend. Recent satellite images from the Optical Oceanography Laboratory at the University of South Florida show an offshore surface bloom extending between Taylor and Pinellas counties, approximately 5 to 35 miles offshore between southern Taylor and northern Levy counties and 10 to 20 miles offshore southern Levy to Pinellas counties.

Red tide destroys marine life by releasing a toxin that paralyzes their central nervous system. The algae also hurts Florida's beaches and can be harmful to people who inhale the algae's toxins when winds blow onshore or by crashing waves, particularly those with asthma and other respiratory ailments.Red tides are not a new problem, in fact they were documented in the southern Gulf of Mexico as far back as the 1700s and along Florida's Gulf coast in the 1840s. Fish kills near Tampa Bay were even mentioned in the records of Spanish explorers.

Because manatees are mammals, they need to come up and breath fresh air just like we do. They can get sick or even die from breathing a concentrated aerosol form of the red tide toxin found in the supersaturated layer of air just above the water's surface. A manatee suffering from the effects of red tide may exhibit muscle twitches, lack of coordination, labored breathing, and an inability to maintain body orientation. If rescued in time, most manatees can recover from the effects of red tide toxicity, so please report a sick manatee immediately to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922), #FWC or *FWC on your cellular phone. Last year's red tide is reportedly responsible for the death of 276 manatees.

No human  deaths have been attributed to red tide, however respiratory and skin irritations  have been reported. Shellfish should not be consumed during a bloom, however it is considered safe to consume shrimp, crabs and fish  during a red tide.

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