Just before Hurricane Michael made landfall last month, an extreme red tide that had covered Florida’s Gulf Coast, depositing countless dead marine life on beaches, had finally started to disperse. But in the weeks following the storm, red tide has returned. The tide is continuing to take a toll, especially on waterfront businesses, like hotels and restaurants.
Fish kills were reported in nine counties from the Panhandle around the tip of the state to the Space Coast. Red tides have many factors at play, but remain tricky to predict. While hurricanes can mix up the ocean and sometimes even provide a healthy flush of fish, like Hurricane Irma did, red tides require more than a one-time flush. Hurricane Michael, in effect, stirred up water while decreasing its temperature and churned up the bottom-dwelling algae, amplifying the problem.
Heavy rain last summer as well as the Corps releasing polluted water down the Caloosahatchee River to ease pressure on the aging dike around Lake Okeechobee, triggered the tide to spread in Pine Island Sound, littering beaches with tons of dead fish.
Coastal ecologist, Steve Leatherman from the Department of Earth and Environment said,“The pure chemist would say we haven’t proven it. We need lots more data. But it seems pretty evident to me. It’s nutrient laden. That’s why we have blue green algae.”
While the red tide bloom on the Atlantic Coast has been less intense, the high numbers are still worrisome. Usually counts remain low because the algae are dispersed as they are carried hundreds of miles by the Florida Current. High numbers suggest the algae could be beginning to multiply as well. Going forward, scientists are hoping to come up with better ways to forecast and end the spread of the tide.
Read the full article on The Miami Herald.