News ID: 219946
Published: 0822 GMT August 16, 2018

Hundreds of dead sea creatures hit Florida beaches in worst red tide in decade

Hundreds of dead sea creatures hit Florida beaches in worst red tide in decade

A natural phenomenon, red tide is caused by a microscopic single-celled organism called Karenia brevis, unique to the Gulf of Mexico. It releases a powerful neurotoxin that can become airborne, causing headaches, watery eyes, coughing and asthma attacks in people.

A state of emergency has been declared in Florida as the worst red tide in a decade blackens the ocean water, killing dolphins, sea turtles and fish at a relentless pace, according to Hindustantimes.com.

More than 100 tons of dead sea creatures have been shoveled up from smelly, deserted beaches in tourist areas along Florida’s southwest coast as a result of the harmful algal bloom this month alone.

In just the past week, 12 dolphins washed ashore dead in Sarasota County, typically the toll seen in an entire year. She and two colleagues “have been literally working around the clock,” Lovewell added.

On Sunday, near the fluffy sands of Siesta Key, one of America’s top-ranked beaches, Lovewell recovered the remains of a decomposing dolphin. A faint number, 252, was visible, freeze-branded onto its dorsal fin.

It was a 12-year-old male named Speck, who had been spotted more than 300 times by researchers monitoring generations of bottlenose dolphins in the Sarasota Bay. Wells pulled out a map showing where researchers have seen Speck over the years. He often swam in waters right near Wells’ own home.

Researchers had also tracked Speck’s mother and grandmother before they died from swallowing fishing gear. Red tide is suspected as the cause of Speck’s death, but researchers won’t know for certain until lab results come back in the next few weeks.

A natural phenomenon, red tide is caused by a microscopic single-celled organism called Karenia brevis, unique to the Gulf of Mexico. It releases a powerful neurotoxin that can become airborne, causing headaches, watery eyes, coughing and asthma attacks in people.

Ecologists say the organism acts like a forest fire, clearing out weeds and allowing the landscape to start anew.

But once it multiplies, sea turtles and manatees may inhale it, or die from eating too much neurotoxin-laced fish and sea grass. Symptoms include disorientation, lack of coordination, and seizures.

Red tide has been documented as far back as the 1500s by Spanish explorers. Florida’s current spate of red tide began in October 2017, but grew considerably worse in recent weeks.

Sometimes expanding and other times ebbing, it has descended on the west coast of Florida from Tampa to Naples, a nearly 200-mile (320-km) span.

Industrial farming and improper waste treatment can foster the growth of toxic blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, another problem plaguing Florida waters.

The same may hold true for red tide, experts say. The smell of rotting fish has been a gut punch to Florida’s economy, sapping millions in revenue from fishing and tourism in peak season.

In the meantime, there is no end in sight to the current red tide outbreak. Wells recalled that dolphins continued to suffer once the last major outbreak of red tide in 2005-2006 had ended. Only a couple of local dolphins were suspected to have died from red tide toxins that time.

But fish populations were decimated. Hungry dolphins are more likely to seek an easy meal on the end of a fishing line, and risk ending up dead themselves.

   
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