Sarasota and surrounding communities continue to deal with the devastating effects of red tide, a higher than normal concentration of a naturally occurring microscopic algae called Karenia brevis or K. brevis. This type of algae produces brevetoxins, a powerful and potent neurotoxin. These brevetoxins are harmful to the central nervous system of fish and other vertebrates, causing marine animals to die. Waves can result in K. brevis cells breaking open and releasing toxins into the air, leading to respiratory irritation in humans. Toxins from red tide can also accumulate in molluscan filter-feeders – such as oysters and clams – causing neurotoxic shellfish poisoning in individuals who consume contaminated shellfish.
Red tide is not new to Florida communities. Red tide was documented in the Gulf of Mexico dating back as far as the 1700s and was present along Florida’s Gulf Coast in the 1840s. The scientific data available so far suggests that nutrients flowing from land to sea, including natural and human-contributed nutrients carried by storm-water runoff, serve as additional “food” for growth of K. brevis blooms. Once transported to shore, red tides are capable of using these human-contributed nutrients for growth. However, there is no demonstrated direct link between nutrient pollution and K. brevis red tide formation. Nor is there any direct link between human-contributed nutrients and how often these blooms occur. Florida red tide blooms develop 10-40 miles offshore, away from human-contributed nutrient sources. Moreover, Florida red tides occurred long before human settlement. In fact, severe red tides were observed in the mid-1900s, well before coastlines were heavily developed.
People who suffer from underlying chronic respiratory problems like asthma or COPD should avoid red tide areas. Studies have shown that airborne red tide toxins can travel up to a mile inland, depending on wind direction and weather patterns. Even if you are a few blocks away from the coastline, toxins could still pose a health threat. Many people experience “the red tide tickle,” which can include an itchy throat and coughing. To minimize the effect of red tide, it is suggested that windows and doors be kept closed and air unit filters be changed regularly. People who experience discomfort from red tide are encouraged to limit outdoor activities, or do them away from beaches during red tides.
While most Sarasota County beaches remain open, Suncoast residents are encouraged to monitor beach conditions during periods of red tide blooms. Mote Marine Laboratory updates their website twice daily with information such as water conditions, wind conditions and aerosol levels. To learn more about red tide, please explore the following links:
Mote Marine Information
Scooter of the Beach Facebook Page
At Wittmer & Linehan PLLC, we care about our beautiful beaches and the effect of red tide on Suncoast residents. Our attorneys and staff are all Sarasota and Manatee residents, and are all involved and interested in the health of our local community.