Scientist from NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and North Carolina State University recently published a study on karenia brevis algae. The North Carolina press release states that “The study shows that harmful and ubiquitous karenia brevis algae, which case red tide blooms across the Gulf of Mexico, become two to seven times more toxic when levels of phosphorus, a major algal nutrient found in fertilizers and human waste, are low. Like wearing a suit of armor, producing highly toxic cells allows the algae to defend themselves against opportunistic waterborne grazers like zooplankton.”
Red tide was first officially recorded in Florida in 1844. The organism produces a toxin that can affect the central nervous systems of fish, birds, and mammals. It has killed over 241 manatees this past fall and winter. Symptoms from breathing red tide toxins include coughing, sneezing and teary eyes. People with chronic respiratory problems like asthma and COPD should avoid red tide areas. Clams and oysters taken from red tide waters should not be eaten as they contain toxins that cause a food poisoning called Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning.
Researchers at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota will be applying similar tests to samples from the massive bloom off Florida’s southwest coast.