I logged onto the beach camera at the Island Inn on Sanibel Island and saw a remarkable sight — at least for this summer. A woman sat in the shade of an umbrella, while a trio frolicked in the shallows.

For that moment, anyway, the red tide — blooms of toxic algae on Florida’s Gulf Coast — had moved elsewhere.

The organism named Karenia brevis has emptied beaches in recent months as visitors avoid the dead fish and burning sensation to the eyes and throat that the organism can bring. The saltwater infestation — dubbed the red tide due to the tint of affected waters — has stretched more than 130 miles. Areas popular with Minnesotans, including Naples, Fort Myers and Sanibel Island, have been hit hard.

The organism first appeared last fall, but has flourished over the summer, with dramatic consequences.

The toxin can cause respiratory and other health problems in humans. For marine wildlife, the situation is dire. More than 100 tons of dead fish have washed up on beaches, including one 26-foot whale shark. As many as 700 endangered sea turtles have also perished. In Sarasota County, 11 lifeless dolphins beached in just one week in early August.

Meanwhile, blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, has fouled fresh water on both coasts. The cyanobacteria can produce toxins that affect the liver, nervous system and skin, according to Florida’s Department of Health.

When will this dual disaster end? Though Florida Gov. Rick Scott has declared two different states of emergency to combat the algae blooms, it is difficult to know how to manage them. The cooler temps of winter have usually brought them to an end, but the current red tide started last October.

Before heading to Florida, know what to expect by checking with Florida’s wildlife and environment agencies at myfwc.com/redtidestatus and floridadep.gov/dear/algal-bloom.


Send your questions or tips to Travel Editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@startribune.com, and follow her on Twitter: @kerriwestenberg.