Early Signs of Red Tide

At the end of October, 215 researchers from 31 states met in Sarasota for the seventh annual National Harmful Algae Symposium. The event, co-sponsored by Mote Marine and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, was an opportunity for scientists and public health experts to share their latest research. A large part of their focus was on red tide.

Red tide blooms generally start in the late summer to early fall. Typically the algae bloom occurs 20 to 40 miles offshore and works its way to the coast. What makes it start and how it blooms remains somewhat of a mystery. For humans, the toxic algae bloom can cause eye and respiratory irritation.

Shortly after the symposium ended, the Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife on Sanibel Island had already treated six birds ill from suspected red tide cases. Dr. Heather Barron, Hospital Director said, “We’re the early warning system because even long before the news starts saying hey there’s red tide out there, we will start seeing animals in with obvious clinical signs.”

Local marine scientists from the Sanibel-Captiva area feel that heavy summer rains across Florida carried large nutrient loads from the Kissimmee River watershed, Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee River and delivered them to the Lee County Coast. This has created ideal breeding grounds for red tide.

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