Damaging Red Tide Shows Up on Florida Coastline Following Hurricanes Ian and Nicole

by Jon D. B.

Due to back-to-back hurricanes, the Florida beaches – and marine life that call them home – are under siege by a severe red tide.

When a hurricane hits shorelines, oceanic waters are churned upward. Alongside warming waters, this can initiate the harmful algal blooms that cause what we know as a red tide. These blooms of red-colored algae are severely detrimental to marine life, and toxic for humans who come in contact with it.

When Hurricane Ian struck this past September, the storm left southwestern Florida ripe for red tides. Sarasota and Charlotte saw particularly bad algae blooms. Lee Counties were also hit hard.

But it was Hurricane Nicole, however, that made things far worse. As Nicole came ashore, further-out red tides were swept inward, toxifying beaches in the process.

“Now, we’re seeing these mass fish kills where a bloom can basically feed itself,” cites environmental engineer Tracy Fanara.

Fanara says the back-to-back hurricanes also created “nutrient-rich runoff,” which mixed with existing coastal algal blooms. And this has the red tides multiplying at an alarming, devastating rate.

CAPTIVA, FLORIDA: Dead fish have washed ashore in the thousands due to a red tide 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)

To make matters worse, it’s impossible to know what seafood has or hasn’t ingested the algae’s toxins before their death. Any humans eating fish, shellfish, and other seafood may consume these toxins through their food.

What Should Floridians Know to Stay Safe & Healthy Amid Latest Red Tide?

This is worst-case-scenario for Floridians, as this can result in severe illness – and even death. Knowing where your seafood comes from – or avoiding it altogether during these toxic blooms – is advised by the state. Right now, the range between Manatee County and Collier County is in the danger zone.

As for how long this may be a concern, Tracy Fanara says southwest Florida’s current red tide is still spreading. And it’s impossible to know exactly when the toxic phenomenon will end.

“There are so many different factors that come into play when we’re talking about these blooms’ initiation, dissipation. So, it’s really just tough to say right now how long this bloom is going to last,” she explains.

Florida warning sign during Red Tide. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Fanara, does, at least, offer a historic time table. Most red tide blooms have lasted two to six months. But amid our warming climate, these deadly blooms are lasting longer and longer with each year.

In the meantime, it is important to know that red tide, even in low concentrations that are not easily seen with the naked eye, can cause:

  • Eye and throat irritation
  • Breathing discomfort
  • Skin irritation and mild rash
  • Coughing and sneezing

If you are in contact with Florida ocean water and experience any of these symptoms, contact your doctor right away. Those with asthma or any respiratory condition/illness should also avoid beaches during red tide.

Stay safe out there, Outsiders!