HomeOutdoorsNewsRed Tide Blooms on Florida Beach Decimate Bird and Fish Populations

Red Tide Blooms on Florida Beach Decimate Bird and Fish Populations

by Suzanne Halliburton
Eve Edelheit for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Red tide continues to spread throughout the Gulf of Mexico and onto the southwest Florida coast. Hurricane Ian already devastated parts of the state. Now it’s dealing with the deaths of bird and fish.

An ABC station in Naples, Fla., reported Tuesday that conditions were particularly bad on Vanderbilt Beach, a spot that’s still attracting tourists. Dead fish washing up along the beach certainly isn’t good for business or anyone’s health.

Shelley McKernan, who is with the non-profit Collier County Waterkeeper, explained what was happening with red tide as it takes control.

“As the red tide comes in, it’s going to continue to deplete oxygen, ” McKernan said. It’s “unhealthy, more bacteria … it just creates a worse situation.”

If you are unfamiliar with red tide, here’s an explanation from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They’re harmful algal blooms, which are known by the acronym HAB. There are more than 50 HAB species that occur in the Gulf of Mexico. The one that causes red tide is called Karenia brevis. And these HABs occur when tiny algae get out of control and multiply to higher-than-normal concentrations.

Red tides in Florida can impact humans and the wildlife, including turtles. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Red Tides in Florida Impact Wildlife and Humans

Everyone is at risk from red tide. K. brevis creates toxins that can kill fish and birds and other marine wildlife. Plus, K brevis also can cause health problems in humans. The toxins can go airborne and make it difficult to breathe. And, if you eat contaminated shell fish, you can suffer from Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning.

Beach communities can lose millions of dollars when red tides start impacting their shores. Dead fish make the beaches a no-go. Plus, the red tide in Florida also can impact the shellfish business. And residents need to be aware that these toxins can cause eye and respiratory irritations.

The Florida Wildlife Commission reported that K brevis was found in 133 samples in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.

Back in Naples, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida reported an increase in sick and injured animals being treated at area vet hospitals. The illnesses and injuries are related to red tide. Hospitals are treating a number of protected birds, including pelicans.

“The birds can’t really get away from it, and the sea life can’t really get away from it,” said Joanna Fitzgerald, the director of the Conservancy’s animal hospital. “So the effects are just so much more severe.”

Fitzgerald added: “It’s different from previous outbreaks in previous years because there’s a sense it’s different … the body condition of the birds coming in is just worse off than in past years.”