Wednesday, October 3, 2012

During the International Coastal Clean-up on Sept. 15, dead bait fish littered the shoreline of Englewood Beach.

The algae bloom commonly called red tide by coastal Floridans is always present some where out in the Gulf or Atlantic waters.  The microscopic single celled algae called Gymnodinium breve (pronounced, "Jim-no-din-ee-um-bre-vay")  just hangs out dormant on the ocean bottom. Why and when the algae multiply  or "bloom" is still undetermined but most scientists agree that excess nutrients - from artificial fertilizers to natural organic decay - play a role because the nutrients allow the algae to live and reproduce. Many scientists also believe ocean currents play an important role in bloom formation by concentrating large amounts of red tide in certain areas. Blooms have been found both far offshore and in coastal bays and estuaries. The last major red tide bloom in Southwest Florida started in early 2005 and did not substantially end until late 2006. It is a natural phenomenon that can wreck havoc on the coastal beach economy. 

The first sign that the red tide has arrived are the masses of small bait fish that wash up on the shoreline.  There is a definite smell to the air but as the larger fish & other marine life wash up and  decay in the hot sun the stench intensifies. The second sign of red tide is the irritation to the back of your throat. As you breathe the nasty stuff it makes you cough a hacking type of a cough.  Just a nasty shame for all involved - animal & mineral.

There is really nothing that can be done.  We Floridians have just learned to wait it out.  Beach crews will bury the decaying marine life and eventually the wind and currents will carry the algae bloom to it's next destination, hopefully far out into the Gulf of Mexico. The current red tide bloom is estimated to be 35 miles long stretching from Sarasota County to Northern Collier County.  The effects of the toxic algae are being felt all over the Englewood barrier islands of Boca Grande, Palm Island, & Manasota Key. Scientists at Mote Marine Laboratory, the University of South Florida and the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are monitoring the bloom to track its dimensions and location.  For current conditions on SWFL beaches here's the Mote Marine beach conditions link.