Red tide heading toward Florida coast

  • Updated: August 15, 2014 - 6:40 PM

A massive red tide blooming off the coast of southwestern Florida appears to be growing and headed toward land.

The red tide is patchy, but researchers say it stretches an amazing 60 miles by 90 miles in the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s not the most colossal bloom recorded in that part of the world, but it is the biggest since 2005, said Hayley Rutger, a spokeswoman with Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota, Fla.

“They are part of the natural system of the gulf, so we do get used to seeing them,” she said.

This type of red tide occurs when a microscopic algae called Karenia brevis begins to multiply out of control.

Florida red tides have been observed off the Florida coast since the 1700s and usually start 10 to 40 miles offshore.

But because they occur naturally doesn’t mean they are no big deal. K. brevis produces a toxin that attacks the central nervous systems of fish, birds, and marine mammals. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports that thousands of snapper, grouper, grunts, crabs, bull sharks, lionfish, sea snakes, octopus and eel have died.

The red tide can also pose a risk to humans. Waves can break up the K. brevis cells, causing them to release toxins into the air, irritating people with asthma or emphysema or causing a skin rash. And if the winds are right, they can travel as much as a mile onshore.

Los Angeles Times

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