Karenia brevis, also known as red tide, is a species of algae that occurs naturally in the Gulf. The blooming of red tide algae is harmful and discolors water to a reddish hue and produces toxic chemicals. These chemicals can affect the central nervous system of fish and other vertebrates in the water, causing creatures to die or be seriously injured. Red tide is also harmful to humans as it can cause respiratory irritation (coughing, sneezing, tearing and an itchy throat) as the spores from the ride blows onshore.
Red tide can be traced back to the sixteenth century when European explorers arrived at the west coast of Florida. It is a natural seaweed that has been documented along the coast of the Gulf of Florida since the 1840’s and occurs almost every year. Blooms usually occur in late summer and may persist until late fall or early winter.
The red tide should not be confused with a bloom of blue-green algae. Known as cyanobacteria, is a naturally occurring bacteria that is found in fresh water mainly lakes and rivers. They produce harmful blooms when they come in contact with nutrient-rich water that receive a lot of sunlight. In the State of Florida, this nutrient rich water is coming from urban and agricultural runoff going into Lake Okeechobee. The blue-green algae blooms normally float to the surface and can be several inches thick, especially near the shoreline. It has covered many miles of Florida's beaches along the Atlantic coast with thick, smelly green mud. Exposure to blue-green algae and their toxins can cause diarrhea, nausea or vomiting; skin, eye or throat irritation; and allergic reactions or breathing difficulties.
It is important that we are able forecast the blooms of red tides and blue-green algae so that we can better prepare and protect our communities. While we struggle to learn more about these natural phenomena, we must deploy all available state's resources and invest in research and development do everything possible to make sure that the residents of Florida are safe, and the accompanying areas can recover. Our environment is our economy.