The Ravaging Red Tide

By Zatoria Thompson, Madison Schlichte and Matthew Emmanuel
SEPT 19, 2018

The spread of the ravaging Red Tide is turning Florida’s beautiful waters into harmful, dark places. The Red Tide is comprised of the destructive microscopic algae known as Karenia Brevis. According to BBC News reporter Carlos Serrano, this year the toxic algae, which originates in the Gulf of Mexico, has spread farther than expected and drifted 150 miles, reaching the west coast of Florida. What were once heavily populated beaches, are now barren and empty. The refreshing tropical breeze has now been replaced with the horrid stench of decomposing fish. The local population wonders how this will be resolved.

Red tide floating along the coastline Photo: Flickr

As red tide continues to spread along the shores, Floridians are concerned about impacts on their health. The organism Karenia Brevis continues to blow onshore, and airborne particles from this organism are suspected to be causing respiratory problems for some individuals.  CDC reports that some of these respiratory symptoms include: sniffling, coughing, sneezing, itchy throat, and throat inflammation.

Not only is red tide affecting people’s health, but tourism is also being greatly affected. At the start of vacation season, beach hotels throughout Florida were struggling to lure in the tourists. With dead sea creatures washing up on the shores of hotel beaches, these locations have been very unappealing. Currently, many aquatic activities such as surfing and jet skiing are not safe due to the presence of Red Tide.

Red Tide is very toxic to marine wildlife. Karenia brevis produce a toxin called breventoxins that can come into contact with wildlife in several ways: swimming in water, ingesting the cells, inhaling the toxins and eating infected prey. The primary consumers of the toxins are zooplankton, fish, bivalves, and other filter feeders. These primary consumers can transfer their toxins to predators when consumed. This is how the Red Tide algae spreads and kills large numbers of aquatic life.

Red tide flowing into riverbanks Photo: Wikimedia Commons

USA Today reporter Caroline Simon explained that fish are most affected by Florida Red Tide. In the mid-1800s, marine biologists were very confused about what was causing mass amounts of fish to die. This mystery was solved when Karenia Brevis was discovered in 1946, but to date no solution has been found.When fish are exposed to Karenia Brevis, their gills stop functioning, making it impossible for them to breathe. Depending on how contaminated the water is, the animals either die immediately or die after a long term exposure to the toxins.

Bigger aquatic animals like sea turtles can develop many symptoms when exposed to Red Tide.  Some of these symptoms are swimming in circles, lack of coordination, head bobbing, muscle twitching, jerky body movements and extreme sluggishness. Thankfully, it is possible to successfully rehabilitate sea turtles back to full health, but, without human intervention, they are most likely to die. Birds that consume infected sea animals can become quite ill. However, the birds can also be nursed back to health. Contaminated birds’ symptoms include the inability to stand, slumping of the head, weakness, reluctance to fly, seizures, nasal and oral discharge, labored breathing, and dehydration.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas biology teacher Mrs. Dyane Genovese, manatees are infected when they eat the plants that contain the neurotoxin that the algae, Karenia Brevis, spreads.  

The population of manatees and dolphins has been reduced drastically as a result of the contamination cause by Red Tide. Marine biologists are trying to find different ways to eliminate Red Tide, but it is not an easy task. Hopefully in the future, Red Tide will be exterminated and the Floridian beaches will be restored back to their tropical glory.