Unwelcome visitor ruins spring break in Florida – toxic algae

The toxic algae that have haunted Florida’s Gulf Coast in recent years have left beaches like this, in the city of Sanibel, littered with dead fish.

With its brilliant sun, white sand, and turquoise water, Lido Key Beach would be a picture-perfect postcard of Florida beaches were it not for dozens of dead fish lying on the shore, killed by a toxic algal bloom known as red tide.

The bloom usually hits Florida’s Gulf Coast in the summer, but this year it’s spring, a time when thousands of American families flock to the Sunshine State during school vacations, and the outbreak bodes badly for the tourism industry.

On the terrace of the Lido Beach Resort, Jeff Napier, a 62-year-old employee, complains about the effect of the red tide on business.

“We had a lot of cancellations. People are getting sick,” Napier told AFP. “Why would you want to spend so much money and stay here?”

Large amounts of the harmful algae known as Karenia brevis can kill marine life and cause respiratory complications in some people. It also has a sulphurous, putrid odor.

Dick Bowser experienced this firsthand a few days ago. The 80-year-old tourist walks along the shoreline with a cane in each hand, happy that the ocean currents have turned the tide of Sarasota, at least for now.

“It smelled awful. I couldn’t stand being near the beach,” Bowser said. “It bothered me in the form of coughing, constant coughing. I used to get sore throats, eyes or sinuses every day.”

In Napier’s case, the toxic algae gave him five days of migraines, something he doesn’t want to experience again.

“They just need to fix that red tide. They need to fix it,” he says. “But I don’t know what they’re going to do about it.”

These dead fish, seen off the coast of Madeira Beach, Florida, were victims of an earlier red tide

These dead fish, seen off the coast of Madeira Beach, Florida, were victims of an earlier red tide.

‘Kill the Algae’

Fifty kilometers (30 miles) from Lido Key Beach, scientists at the Mote Marine Laboratory have been working since 2020 to reduce the impact of red tides, a phenomenon first reported by Spanish explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries, based on stories of the indigenous populations in the area.

The aim of the study is to “kill the algae, denature the toxin and have no significant impact on the non-target species,” explains Dr. Michael Crosby, president and CEO of the laboratory.

To achieve this, researchers grow specimens of Karenia brevis in huge tanks of seawater that mimic the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico and test various substances against it.

So far, they’ve identified a dozen methods that work, and in the next two years they plan to test them in the ocean, Crosby says.

“You’d Still Have Red Tides”

But Crosby warns that it’s impossible to completely eradicate red tide because Karenia brevis occurs naturally, unlike other harmful algae that are often the result of human activities on land, such as from agriculture.

“We will never completely get rid of the red tide,” he says.

The toxic algae known as the red tide has threatened long stretches of Florida's coast, such as Lido Beach Key (seen here), for the c

The toxic algae known as the red tide has threatened long stretches of Florida’s coast, such as Lido Beach Key (seen here), off the coast of Sarasota.

Florida’s red tide begins about 40 miles off the state’s west coast and can approach the shoreline due to ocean currents.

The current outbreak was caused by Hurricane Ian, which hit Florida in September and pushed the existing red tide to the surface, Crosby explained.

Once on the coast, microalgae proliferate when they come into contact with nutrient-rich water, both naturally and through agricultural activities.

“We are exploring the extent to which it is possible that humans, particularly land-based nutrient imports, could exacerbate a red tide in terms of intensity or duration.”

“But even if you took all the people out of the state of Florida, you’d still have red tides,” he adds.

Opposite the Lido Beach Resort, Napier seems to be resigned to living with the poisonous bloom.

“You have to be aware that there is red tide in Florida. It’s been here for hundreds of years.”

© 2023 AFP

Quote: Unwanted visitor ruins Florida spring break – toxic algae (2023, March 19) Retrieved March 19, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-03-unwanted-visitor-floridatoxic-algae.html

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