Massive Red Tide Threatens Florida's Gulf Coast

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After Toledo had to temporarily ban residents from using tap water last weekend because of a toxic algae bloom on Lake Erie, you probably figured that we’d filled the quota of bad algae-related news for the summer. No such luck, unfortunately. Off the Gulf Coast of Florida, the biggest red tide bloom seen in Florida in nearly a decade already has killed thousands of fish.

The bloom, which contains the microorganism Karenia brevis, may pose a public health threat to Floridians if it washes ashore, which is expected to happen in the next two weeks, according to Reuters.

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission says that the tide is approximately 80 miles long and up to 50 miles wide, and currently is between 40 and 90 miles offshore. The state already has received reports from Floridians of thousands of dead and dying creatures being found, ranging from octopus to bull sharks.

Red tide, which happens in other coastal areas as well, is a phenomenon that’s been occurring for centuries. It happens when a naturally occurring algae bloom goes out of control, producing toxins deadly to fish and other marine life.

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The odorless chemicals given off by the algae, which stains the water red, also can cause minor respiratory distress in people, such as coughing and wheezing. It’s a greater risk to animals, and not just fish.

Last year, a red tide bloom that was smaller, but closer to shore than the current one is now, killed 276 endangered Florida manatees, according to NBC News. The algae contaminates the sea grasses that the aquatic mammals eat, disrupting their nervous systems and ultimately causing them to drown.

Researchers from the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota have deployed two underwater robots to collect data on the slow-moving bloom.

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