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Worst Red Tide Bloom in Over a Decade Plague Florida Tourists, Beaches
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Worst Red Tide Bloom in Over a Decade Plague Florida Tourists, Beaches

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Alamy

VENICE BEACH, FL – August 13, 2018

A toxic algae bloom is creeping up the west coast of the Sunshine State, killing wildlife and keeping residents and tourists away from the acclaimed beaches along the Gulf of Mexico.

Tons of dead fish. A smell so awful you gag with one inhale. Empty beaches, empty roads, empty restaurants.

The ongoing toxic algae bloom is considered to be the longest red tide outbreak for the Gulf of Mexico in over a decade, and officials say it will most likely last until 2019.

Statewide, officials are monitoring the effects of the red tide. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Department of Health, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have created a "bloom response team" to ensure the health of humans, water quality and the environment.

Earlier this week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott called for the FWC and FDEP to "mobilize all available resources" to address the impacts of the red tide.

On Friday, Scott blamed the cause of the blooms on "the federal government releasing water from Lake Okeechobee."

Scientists said Blooms occur where lakes, rivers or near-shore waters have high concentrations of nutrients – in particular, nitrogen and phosphorus. Some lakes and rivers have naturally high nutrient concentrations. However, in Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, man-made nutrient pollution from their watersheds is causing the blooms. Very high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus are washing into the water from agricultural lands, leaky septic systems and fertilizer runoff.

Red tides form offshore, and it is not clear whether or to what extent they have become more frequent. When ocean currents carry a red tide to the shore it can intensify, especially where there are abundant nutrients to fuel algae growth. This year, after heavy spring rains and because of discharges of water from Lake Okeechobee, river runoff in southwest Florida brought a large amount of nutrients into near-shore waters of the Gulf of Mexico, which fueled the large red tide.

Officials say nearly 300 sea turtles have died because of the toxic bloom. Pelicans, manatees and a whale shark have also washed ashore since this unprecedented bloom started.

Worst Red Tide Bloom in Over a Decade Plague Florida Tourists, Beaches

Not only does red tide affect marine life, but it also poses health risks to beachgoers along the west coast of Florida.

Red tide blooms produce toxic chemicals that can affect both marine organisms and humans. The Florida red tide organism, known as K. brevis, produces brevetoxins that can affect the central nervous system of fish and other vertebrates, causing these animals to die.

Shellfish harvesting from regulated areas is banned during red tide because clams, oysters and mussels can accumulate the toxins.

The muscles of crustaceans, including crab, shrimp and lobster, can be eaten because they are not affected by red tide toxins, the FWC said.

Fish are safe to eat as long as they are caught alive and only the muscle is eaten.

While most of the blooms had been limited to coastal areas like Venice Beach, Boca Grande and Charlotte Harbor, the blooms are steadily moving north.

High concentrations are now being seen on Anna Maria Island and southern parts of Tampa Bay, and in the next days and weeks, higher blooms will start to be seen in Pinellas County in cities like St. Petersburg.

Although this isn't peak tourist season for the Gulf Coast — that's in winter — red tide is affecting tourism.

In a statement, Visit Florida, the state's official tourism management board, said that it would "be communicating with visitors just as soon as the beaches are clean and back to normal."

Meanwhile, scientists believe that tourism, tons of dead fish and garbage are just the tip of the iceberg of future problems.

Scientists have clearly shown that there is a positive and synergistic relationship between water temperature, nutrients and algal blooms. In a warmer future, with the same level of nutrient pollution, blooms will become harder if not impossible to control. This means that it is urgent to control nutrient inputs to lakes, rivers and estuaries now.

Unfortunately, today the federal government is relaxing environmental regulations in the name of fostering increased development and job creation. But conservation and economic growth are not incompatible. In Florida, a healthy economy depends strongly on a healthy environment, including clean surface waters without these harmful blooms.

Author: USA Really