Red tide, a type of toxic algae, forms nearly every year off Florida, but this year’s bloom could cause significant damage.
A blob of red tide 60-miles wide and 100-miles long is forming off the western coast of Florida near St. Petersburg, according to the Associated Press (AP). The toxic algae poses a threat to the state’s coastal ecosystems, beaches, coastal inhabitants and multi-million dollar fishing industry.
Red tide is a toxic algae that kills fish and marine wildlife by releasing a toxin that paralyzes their central nervous system. This particular strain is called Karenia brevis. Large blooms like the one forming now pose a significant risk to Florida’s coastal ecosystems and coastal inhabitants with respiratory illnesses and ailments.
“This red tide … will likely cause considerable damage to our local fisheries and our tourist economy over the next few months,” Heyward Mathews, a red tide expert and oceanograper at St. Petersburg College told the AP.
Last year, a red tide bloom killed 276 manatees and poisoned the sea grasses they rely on for food. In 2005, a massive red tide bloom killed reefs, stunk up Florida beaches, and caused millions of dollars in economic damage.
Scientists are still searching for an effective way to combat red tide. In 1950, researchers dumped copper sulfate on red tide blooms, but that reportedly made it worse.
Red tide is also difficult to predict because it forms far offshore where its hard to readily gather data. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) offers daily red tide reports and prediction through the NOAA Harmful Algal Bloom Operational Forecast System.