Red Tide Algal Bloom Hits Florida Beaches

The annual Lake Erie harmful algal bloom forecast was recently released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), predicting that western Lake Erie will experience a harmful algal bloom (HAB) of cyanobacteria this summer. The bloom is expected to be smaller than in 2017 but larger than the bloom in 2016.

Image credit:”Red_Tide_For_Education,” Inf-Lite Teacher © 2012

Despite warning that continued efforts are needed to reduce the size of HABs, officials said that Lake Erie residents and visitors will be able to safely enjoy much of the lake this summer.

It’s a different story down in Florida however where a “red tide” has left a trail of dead marine animals, including turtles, manatees, and fish along southwest Florida’s beaches.  As Chuck Adams, a marine economics specialist with the UF/FAS/Florida Sea Grant, writes: “When red tides occur within SW Florida, the local economy is also negatively impacted. Commercial molluscan shellfish culture as well as natural shellfish beds within the region is often closed. An extended red tide event that occurred during November 2015 to April 2016, disrupted the harvest of cultured shellfish (hard clams and sunray venus clams) significantly; causing the Charlotte Harbor region to be closed 40%, while the Tampa Bay region was closed 80% of that time.  This upsets business activities for hatcheries, growers, and dealers, as well as other businesses that rely on regional shellfish culture for a large part of their sales and revenue.

Home sales, vacation rentals, restaurants, hotels and shops also suffer.  Tourism rates have dropped, as people vacation in Florida for both the sunshine and water activities.

“It’s going to be a tough third quarter”, Bill Waichulies, chief executive at the upscale Pink Shell Resort, has noticed reservations slipping in comparison to this same time, last year.

These efforts have mixed blessings for the region’s lifeblood tourism and hospitality industry.
Reports of the seven-county “state of emergency” due to algal blooms, does not play well on TripAdvisor.   “On one hand, we desperately need the attention (to the water crisis). On the other hand, we don’t like to hear ‘state of emergency’, said Kari Cordisco, general manager of Sanibel Moorings.

Although everyone is in agreement that the region’s water crisis is costing business for real estate, tourism and hospitality, retailing and more, no one knows exactly how much.

More negative impacts, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is algal blooms has also resulted in heavy respiratory irritation and illness in humans.

In an accuweather interview, Dr. Richard Stumpf, NOAA oceanographer at the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, explained, “Red tide is a general term for harmful algal blooms (HABs) in the ocean. There are many different algae that are described as red tide.”

This year, NOAA will increase use of data from the Sentinel-3a satellite, which first became available last year. The satellite measures coastal water color, which shows the location of HABs. The European Union’s Copernicus program has launched a sister satellite, Sentinel-3b, that will start providing imagery in 2019. The Sentinel-3 satellites can see features 10 times smaller than has been seen in the HABs forecasts for the last several years.

According to the FWC, respiratory irritation from the red tide organism Karenia brevis has been reported on the beaches of Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee, and Collier counties. Collier County Pollution Control warned people with chronic respiratory illnesses such as asthma or emphysema that they should exercise caution when going to the beach as onshore winds could aggravate these illnesses. The county has provided a website and hotline (239) 252-2591 for Red Tide information.

Similarly, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF) has warned that the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway, releasing freshwater from the Mississippi River into the lake just north of New Orleans in southeastern Louisiana, may cause algal blooms due to the higher concentration of nutrients in the river water.

Cyanobacteria

Nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as other nutrients in agricultural runoff, are the main cause of algal blooms of cyanobacteria. If ingested, water contaminated with toxic cyanobacteria can cause nausea, vomiting and, in severe cases, acute liver failure.