Toxic algae won't leave Florida's coasts alone

It's even become a campaign issue in the governor's race.
October 2, 2018, 9:12pm

Rust-colored, toxic algae blooms have choked Florida’s coasts for several months now, killing thousands of fish and other marine life and even making beachgoers ill.

Now, the problem has reached its potential peak: hitting all three coasts of the Sunshine State. The naturally occurring but harmful algae bloom, often called a “red tide,” produces brevetoxins that can kill fish in massive numbers. That not only makes the situation potentially harmful to the ecosystem but also burdensome the state’s tourism-based economy.


The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has kept tabs on this particular bloom since its start in November along the state’s southwestern coast. But the red tide has now hit all three of Florida’s coasts, including President Donald Trump’s beloved Palm Beach County, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The algae has reached state’s east coast only eight times since the early 1950s.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we started seeing red tide hit the Carolinas,” said Bob Weisberg, distinguished university professor of physical oceanography at the University of South Florida. Although red tides occur frequently in Florida, its endurance this year, he explained, has allowed the algae to stick around long enough for natural currents to drop it near other shorelines. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission tested the water in Palm Beach County after some beachgoers reported respiratory problems over the weekend, according to the Palm Beach Post. Researchers found the highest concentration of the organism that produces the red tide in the Jupiter Inlet, less than 10 miles away from the Trump National Golf Club and about 30 miles away from the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. But overall the commission recorded low-to-medium concentrations of the red tide in water samples taken off the coast of the county, the Palm Beach Post reported. County officials plan to reopen beaches Wednesday, according to the Palm Beach Post.


READ: [Toxic algae is killing thousands of fish in Florida and making people sick ](, these blooms are concerning on a national level “because they affect not only the health of people and marine ecosystems, but also the 'health' of local and regional economies,” according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The severity and persistence of the red tide this year is troubling — especially given the overwhelming presence of other harmful algae blooms across as well. Sunlight, nutrients, and salinity can stoke algae growth, combined with helpful wind direction and currents. The state’s waters have also experienced harmful blue-green algae blooms, aided by a heavy rainy season last spring. In Rio, along the St. Lucie River, one woman said her otherwise healthy poodle died from the toxic water.Andrew Gillum, the state’s progressive Democratic candidate for governor, railed against the state’s handling of the algae bloom under current Gov. Rick Scott on the campaign trail Tuesday. He called the situation an “economic and environmental disaster” in [campaign ads. ](

“We’ve had bad years in the past,” Weisberg said. “It’s not permanent, and we just have to deal with it.”

Cover image: Workers clean up thousands of small fish on North Redington Beach, Fla., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018 as a result of Red Tide in the Gulf. (Scott Keeler/The Tampa Bay Times via AP)