All your ques­tions about red tide an­swered here

Palm Beach Daily News - - TODAY - By KIM­BERLY MILLER

Q: What hap­pened?

On Sat­ur­day, mul­ti­ple peo­ple on north county beaches com­plained of res­pi­ra­tory, skin and eye ir­ri­ta­tions, prompt­ing a health ad­vi­sory and the clo­sure of beaches from the Martin County line to Lan­tana. The Kare­nia bre­vis al­gae, which causes red tide, is present in Palm Beach County’s coastal wa­ters, ac­cord­ing to test re­sults from the Flor­ida Fish and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion.

Q: What is red tide?

Red tide is a bloom of the Kare­nia bre­vis al­gae that oc­curs nat­u­rally in the Gulf of Mex­ico. The al­gae is rare on Flor­ida’s east coast be­cause it prefers the calmer, more strat­i­fied water of the Gulf. This sum­mer, one of the worst red tides on record was recorded, with mas­sive fish kills and dead man­a­tees, dol­phins and tur­tles. The toxin af­fects the ner­vous sys­tem of ma­rine life, caus­ing paral­y­sis in some cases.

Q: Will we see the same kind of fish kills?

Red tide is typ­i­cally not as in­tense on Flor­ida’s east coast as on its west coast be­cause At­lantic wa­ters are more ac­tive, which helps mix the water so it’s less strat­i­fied and has higher salin­ity through­out the water col­umn. Red tide prefers salty water, but not as salty as full-strength sea­wa­ter.

Q: Has coastal pol­lu­tion caused the Flor­ida red tide?

Harm­ful al­gae blooms thrive in nu­tri­ent-heavy en­vi­ron­ments. Hur­ri­cane Irma and heavy spring rain­fall caused runoff heavy in nu­tri­ents to flood into Lake Okee­chobee and the south­west wa­ter­sheds that feed into the Gulf of Mex­ico.

Q: What does red tide smell like?

Red tide doesn’t have a scent. It re­leases a toxin as a de­fense mech­a­nism, that when re­leased into the air can cause cough­ing, runny noses and wheez­ing.

Q: Are red tide health ef­fects per­ma­nent?

For most peo­ple, symp­toms are tem­po­rary. Peo­ple with chronic res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems such as asthma and COPD should avoid red tide ar­eas.

Q: How could it have reached the east coast?

It’s un­usual for Flor­ida’s east coast to get a red tide bloom. This year, it’s pos­si­ble the red tide got caught in the loop cur­rent that flows through the Flor­ida Straits and into the Gulf Stream. With strong east­erly winds, the red tide may have been blown closer to the beach. Waves help to make the toxin into an aerosol.

Q: How long will red tide last?

Red tide can last for a few weeks to longer than a year. The cur­rent red tide bloom on the west coast be­gan in Oc­to­ber 2017. It peaked with the mas­sive fish kills dur­ing the sum­mer when on­shore winds blew it to­ward the coast.

Q: What’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween red tide and blue-green al­gae?

Red tide lives in salt water, while blue-green al­gae, which is ac­tu­ally a cyanobac­te­ria, lives in fresh water. Lake Okee­chobee and the north­ern es­tu­ar­ies have been plagued by a blue-green al­gae bloom all sum­mer. Both red tide and blue-green al­gae thrive in high-nu­tri­ent en­vi­ron­ments, but more study is needed to de­ter­mine how or whether the two in­ter­act.

Q: Are red tides red?

A high con­cen­tra­tion of the Kare­nia bre­vis bloom can turn water brown.

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