Florida's Red Tide Epidemic

By Dr. Marcy Cockrell, Ph.D., University of South Florida, College of Marine Science

Dr. Cockrell's article is a follow-up to her previous writing on coastal nutrient balances which can be found here.

For the last several months, a red tide bloom has racked the Gulf Coast of Florida, and it isn't predicted to let up any time soon. Currently covering about 145 miles from Collier to Pinellas counties, there have been reports of dead fish, manatees, dolphins, and even a 26-foot whale shark, all related to the toxins produced by red tide. Residents are getting sick, and tourists are staying away from the beaches, which has had an impact on local businesses. 

The Red Tide appears as a light green swirl off the coast of Florida from this August 18th MODIS satellite image. Photo courtesy of the Optical Oceanography Lab at the University of South Florida College of Marine Science

The Red Tide appears as a light green swirl off the coast of Florida from this August 18th MODIS satellite image. Photo courtesy of the Optical Oceanography Lab at the University of South Florida College of Marine Science

One major factor in this year's bloom are Army Corps of Engineers' water releases from Lake Okeechobee, which may be more nutrient-rich than usual after last fall's Hurricane Irma passed over south Florida and mixed up the lake's nutrient-rich bottom. The water releases are needed to protect the aging infrastructure of Herbert Hoover dike. Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for seven affected counties on August 13th and pledged $1.5 million in relief funding, as well as $100 million to repair the dike. This red tide bloom is a stark reminder of all the connections between our lands, watersheds, waterways, and oceans, and just how important a healthy environment is for healthy human communities.

You can follow the bloom's progression from Florida Fish and Wildlife here.

And find beach conditions, including respiratory irritation and dead fish levels, through Mote Marine Lab here.

Future Frogmen thanks Dr. Marcy Cockrell for her contributions.

Richard Hyman