Deadly Florida Red Tide Kills Over 600 Tons of Marine Life and Counting

by Jon D. B.

“The bay is really hurting right now.” Florida‘s latest summertime red tide has killed an estimated 600 tons of wildlife so far, with the number expected to grow.

If you’re a Floridian, this news comes as no surprise. If you’re planning on visiting anywhere along the Gulf coast (think Tampa Bay or St. Pete), however, you’ll want to wait.

Pinellas County’s Maya Burke tells NPR that the bay is “really hurting right now… “It’s significant numbers of dead fish all up and down the food chain, from small forage fish all the way up to tarpon, manatees, dolphins,” Burke laments. “If it’s swimming in the bay, right now it’s washing up dead.”

The culprit is red tide – a phenomenon as old as the seas themselves. So far as we know. Yet a warming climate and environmental or chemical waste has made the deadly, toxic algae blooms far more common than they used to be.

CAPTIVA, FLORIDA – JANUARY 4: Dead fish have washed ashore in the thousands due to a red tide on January 4, 2021 in Captiva Island, Florida. Red tide is a toxic algae bloom and can occur naturally or be accelerated by pollutants in the water. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

In documented history, severe red tides tend to occur around autumn, then leave by the following January. Summer blooms like this are rare. Or they used to be, rather. Now, the responsible algae species – Karenia brevis – wreaks havoc on the southern coasts what feels like every other summer. And with it comes untold losses of marine life.

For 2021’s summer red tide, Florida officials have dredged a remarkably tragic 600 tons of dead sea life. As The Inertia states, most are coming from the St. Petersburg area.

“We scrape the beaches,” says Amber Boulding, St. Petersburg’s emergency manager. “We get it cleaned up, but as soon as those tides change, we have fish right back in. We don’t know the end of it.”

Locals are living it, too. St. Pete’s Evan Ligon footage from this week shows the direct fallout of a Florida summer’s red tide below.

Florida Summer Red Tides Increase in Frequency – And Cost of Life

As many of us remember, the last horrible red tide to hit Florida‘s Gulf coastal areas was in 2018. There, it was so strong – so rough – that it took countless manatees and dolphins with it.

For humans, red tide results in but respiratory irritation – or a delayed vacation. For marine life, however, it’s a death sentence. And the more frequently they occur, the more wildlife we’re going to lose that we can never get back.

“This is not normal,” adds oceanographer Richard Stumpf for NPR. “The fact that it’s been three years since the last one is not good.”

To put this into perspective, only four summertime red tide blooms have hit this area since the 1990s began. 1995 saw one, followed by another in 2005. 2018 was the last before now. The gaps between are rapidly decreasing.

As for how this is happening, everything from 2021’s catastrophic oil spills, to the oddity of recent tropical storms (like Elsa) are to blame, scientists theorize. The first is, of course, a direct result of human negligence. As said negligence continues to speed up climate change unnaturally, so is the latter.