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Red Tide: A Plague on the Sea

Red Tide kills wherever it goes – and there’s no way to predict when or where it will strike next.

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“Mom, can we go to the beach?” Increasingly, the answer is no for those who live and vacation in Florida’s vast Gulf Coast region. From Bonita Springs all the way up to Sarasota County, toxic red tide is rolling in, forcing beach bums back to the pool.

Karenia brevis algae – commonly called “red tide” because its colorful blooms turn coastal water scarlet – is becoming more common up and down Florida’s western shoreline, and it’s not pretty. Aside from the smell of death, red tide triggers a whole host of negative consequences.

The Tangled Red Web

Sea creatures of all manner, from fish to dolphins, die as a result of asphyxiation because the algae bloom chokes off the oxygen in the water. The toxins released by the massive algae population are troublesome for humans, as well.

People are exposed through a variety of mechanisms that include eating tainted fish, breathing in the toxins that pollute the air, and in some cases, through skin contact. It’s believed karenia brevis can cause neurological problems and impact those with chronic respiratory ailments like emphysema. Bottom line: You really don’t want to hang out on a beach with red tide.

While the algae bloom is considered a natural phenomenon, there are certain conditions that exacerbate its growth, such as warm waters, low saline content, rain followed by sun, and calm seas. It’s primarily spread by ships, storms, currents, and the wind. And despite millions of dollars that have been poured into trying to stem growth, very few – if any – efforts to prevent the algae have paid off. In fact, the species has exploded 15-fold in the last 50 years. Its growth and spread still troubles scientists and continues to pound the Gulf Coast tourist industry with no end in sight. To make matters worse, experts seem unable to predict when and where this toxic phenomenon will next hit.

No Fun in Florida

Those who usually head to the warmer climate of Florida’s posh and trendy Gulf Coast in the winter hedge their bets and stay home as they wait for the red tide to recede. Thus, this major ecosystem malfunction has cost the state of Florida millions both in terms of trying to halt its unwanted appearance and in lost tourism.

Karenia brevis appears to be a mystery that marine experts haven’t yet been able to unravel.

Leesa K. Donner is Editor-in-Chief of and A widely published columnist, Leesa previously worked in the broadcast news industry as a television news anchor, reporter, and producer at NBC, CBS and Fox affiliates in Charlotte, Pittsburgh, and Washington, DC. She is the author of “Free At Last: A Life-Changing Journey through the Gospel of Luke.”

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