TAMPA BAY – Red tide, or a harmful bloom of algae, is harming Florida beaches and marine life after Hurricanes Ian and Nicole swept through the Sunshine State.
Upwelling events and mixing from Ian may have initiated the algal bloom when the storm struck Southwestern Florida in late September. The bloom left behind appeared as patches near the coastlines of Sarasota, Charlotte and Lee Counties.
Nicole, however, exacerbated the situation as currents during the storm pushed the patches closer to shore.
According to environmental engineer Tracy Fanara, the storm also created nutrient-rich runoff that mixed with the bloom near the coastline, causing it to grow with devastating consequences.
"Now, we're seeing these mass fish kills where a bloom can basically feed itself," Fanara said.
The algal bloom can also be dangerous for humans. Humans who eat any fish or shellfish that have consumed toxic algae from a red tide area will then ingest those toxins. They may then become sick and, in some cases, die.
Fanara noted that the current red tide in Southwest Florida has spread, spanning a range between Manatee County and Collier County.
How long this bloom will last is still in question. According to Fanara, blooms have historically lasted two to six months, but blooms in recent years have lasted longer.
"There are so many different factors that come into play when we're talking about these blooms’ initiation, dissipation," she said. "So, it's really just tough to say right now how long this bloom is going to last."