November 22, 2013 at 3:20 am #1066MikeKeymaster
This statement is pretty silly. because by my count we have seen
this continuously for about 5-6 months. “””They also have to wait
until the bloom dissipates, and that could take several weeks.”””
Red tide poisoning Gulf of Mexico beaches
By Jim Stratton
CLEARWATER, Fla. — The last time Janine Cianciolo slipped into the
waters off Clearwater Beach, she wondered whether something was
wrong with her eyes.
Instead of finding the bright reds and yellows of reef life, she saw
only the sickly grays of a seascape tainted by toxic algae known as
“We were shooting with color film,” said Cianciolo, a dive
instructor and veterinarian at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. “But when
we looked at it, it was like we were using black and white. There
was no color. Everything was dead.”
It has been that way for months, ever since one of the worst red-
tide outbreaks of recent history crept into the Gulf of Mexico early
The poisonous algae produce a potent nerve toxin and ultimately rob
the water of oxygen. The algae kill sea life and make some people
feel sick. Red tide is a naturally occurring phenomenon that has
been reported for more than 100 years. Recently, outbreaks have
seemed more severe, although it’s unclear why.
Since January, red tide has killed tens of thousands of fish, crabs,
birds and other small creatures. It has killed at least 66 manatees
and 34 dolphins, and sickened almost 180 sea turtles, most of which
The bloom has chased tourists from the beach, leaving them with sore
throats, a hacking cough and a headache that subsides only when they
get away from the water.
It has appeared as far south as Collier County, Fla., and as far
north and west as Pensacola Beach. Early this month, it surfaced in
Apalachicola, forcing the closure of oyster beds along the Florida
Panhandle. The algae contaminate shellfish, making them dangerous to
“It’s just been horrible this year,” said Jon Johnsen, owner of Fun
& Sun Parasail on Anna Maria Island. “We’ve all been suffering
Johnsen’s anxiety is typical of many small businesses along the
Gulf. They rely on sunshine, sugary beaches and sparkling water to
lure a steady stream of tourists. Red tide can effectively knock out
two-thirds of that equation.
“They want to come here and enjoy the water,” said Johnsen, who has
spent more than 30 years on the Gulf. “Last week, I had two women
leave after they saw the dead fish. I can’t blame them. Nobody wants
to see or smell a bunch of dead fish.”
Local governments know that. On days with severe red tide, they
clean the beaches of dead fish and crabs that wash ashore.
Sometimes, a few employees can handle the job. Sometimes, they need
a backhoe and a front-end loader.
“It can be really bad,” Johnsen said. “One day, it was like a fish
house showed up and dumped their whole stock on the beach. I just
sat on that picnic table and cried.”
Red tide forms when tiny, single-celled algae called Karenia brevis
begin multiplying out of control. The algae produce a nerve toxin
lethal to fish and other sea life. But the toxin is only part of the
As creatures die and decompose, they produce bacteria that suck
oxygen from the water. Animals that survived the toxin often
suffocate from the lack of oxygen.
As the algae bloom moves toward shore, waves, wind and boat
propellers vaporize the toxin, driving it into the air. The
resulting vapor can irritate a beach-goer’s eyes, nose and throat.
Gulf lifeguards have fact sheets they hand out to visitors who ask
about the tide. It warns people with conditions such as asthma or
emphysema to avoid beaches plagued by red tide.
The trouble is, no one can predict when a bloom will show up. That
would require an extensive monitoring system of sensors throughout
the Gulf. Today, only a few monitors are in place, and adding enough
to predict and track red tide would cost tens of millions of dollars.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium has become an urgent-care center for
animals poisoned by the bloom. Since August, it has been called to
help more than 100 sea turtles. Now, aquarium workers are trying to
rehabilitate eight turtles, including a 353-pound loggerhead named
Cianciolo, the aquarium’s vet, said the algae paralyze turtles,
making it impossible for them to surface and breathe. At the
aquarium, they’re kept in shallow pools to prevent them from
drowning. The sickest are simply covered with wet towels because
they can’t lift their heads at all.
Percy can now raise his massive head, but he remains lethargic and
must be fed by hand. Sam, the turtle one pool over, is in worse
shape. He can’t open his mouth, so workers must use a small plastic
tool to pry his mouth open. Then they quickly shove bits of squid
“They have to get their strength back,” said Tammy Langer, who
supervises the turtles’ rehabilitation. “We can’t release them until
we know they can feed on their own.”
They also have to wait until the bloom dissipates, and that could
take several weeks.
“Our big question is, ‘Is the red tide gone?’ ” Cianciolo
said. “Until then, these guys stay with us.”
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