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Seeing Red: Toxic Tides Harming Florida Coastal Waters

From the big bend of Florida’s Gulf Coast to the picturesque destination of Key West,
the dreaded red tide continues to plague coastal waters on all sides of the Sunshine
State. So what is red tide and what can you do to protect yourself?


Simply put, red tide, as described by Ocean Portal, is the result of a massive growth
of algae that feed on an overabundance of inland nutrients entering coastal waters.
While algae are completely normal and essential to ocean life, excessive blooms can
become dangerous – both to humans and the environment – because of the higher-
than-normal concentration of toxins released as the organism dies.

Because the algae is feeding off excess nutrients and multiplying at an exponential
rate, the blooms color ocean surface to rust-like hues – thus the monikers “red tide”
or “brown tide.” The algae toxins are known to cause respiratory and neurological
problems in humans and wildlife – often proving fatal to the latter.
Waters impacted by red tide usually smell foul, likely from the algae toxins, dead sea
life or a combination of both.

Although harmful algae blooms are common in nature, the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration [NOAA] said 2018 was a particularly bad year for red


While the exact cause of red tide is still up for debate (a natural phenomenon dated
as far back as the 1500s, as reported by National Geographic), pollution, livestock
and agricultural runoffs are all suspected as contributing factors – helping to
overfeed the algae blooms as they move close to shore.
Additionally, during Florida’s rainy season, more and more inland nutrients enter
the water supply, further feeding the harmful algae and exacerbating the issue.


Until we can better prevent the overabundance of inland nutrients entering the
coastal waters, whether through pollution or runoff control, the best defense against
the impacts of red tide for humans is to simply avoid affected waters and
surrounding beaches.

If you can’t find a red tide forecast on the news, the Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission created a simple, yet effective, red tide Daily Sample Map
for the state. Using data from the past eight days, which is then updated daily at 5

p.m., the interactive red tide map shows the areas and levels of red tide toxins,
which range from “not present” to “high,” depending on the area. Furthermore,
depending on the area you’re interested in, you can select the dots indicated on the
map for location testing information.

For example, as recent as January 2, the waters tested in Lido Key near Sarasota
showed a high concentration of red tide toxins.


MOTE Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota encourages residents to report
any coastal areas where respiratory issues, dead fish or discolored waters are found
through its Website

If you come across distressed marine life, such as sea turtles, dolphins or manatees,
MOTE encourages you to contact a designated wildlife responder.
“Report distressed or deceased wildlife anywhere in Florida to the Florida Fish and
Wildlife Conservation Commission [at] 888-404-3922,” MOTE states.
Additionally, for areas with a high concentration of dead fish or marine life, MOTE
asks you contact the Fish Kill Hotline at 800-636-0511.


All of us at Trac Ecological are committed to developing marine-safe products,
which are not found to have any link to red tide. For more information on our
products, visit

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