Florida beaches could be dealt a one-two punch of red tide and giant seaweed blob

Some of Florida’s most popular beaches may suffer from a one-two punch as thousands of spring breakers flock to the Sunshine State.

Oh A toxic algae bloom called red tide. Already killing fish along the Gulf Coast, causing the stench. Now, A Big blob of seaweed A storm twice the width of the United States is sweeping across the Atlantic Ocean and could wash ashore in the coming weeks, creating an even bigger mess.

“It could be two problems that turn into one,” said Mike Parsons, a professor of marine science at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Algal blooms have essentially suffocated some marine life, creating an odor as dead marine animals wash ashore.

This is not the only effect. Sea air can carry a toxic substance released from the shores of red tide algae, which can cause health problems for people including coughing, sore throats and itchy eyes, as well as breathing problems. and include asthma attacks.

Algae occurs naturally. But Professor Parsons and a team at Florida Gulf Coast University’s School of Water are investigating whether pollution is making the blooms worse.

Parsons said there have been bad red tides in the past, including in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.

“The big concern is: Now that our coastline is more developed and there are more people in Florida than ever before, how are we affecting water quality and how is that affecting red tide?” They said.

“There is evidence that we are affecting the red tide through emissions,” he said. “Any nutrients that enter our water bodies — Lake Okeechobee, Caloosahatchee, other rivers — those nutrients can end up in the coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and they could be eating red tide.”

In other words, while pollution is not “definitely” the cause of the problem, according to Parsons, “it can exacerbate the problem.”

A red tide originates dozens of miles out to sea when there is a high concentration of algae known as Kernia breves. Parsons said that based on data collected by his team, the belief is that red tides sit in deep water, then rise to the surface after moving ashore, where they become concentrated and form shorelines. But it causes traffic jams.

The red tide could have an impact on tourism, as businesses along the Gulf Coast are still recovering from Hurricane Ian last year. But a lingering stench hasn’t deterred some tourists recently, like Melanie Coulter of Wisconsin, whose vacation ended with a photo of a dead horseshoe crab.

“As we were driving by our car, I thought, ‘Oh, that stinks,’ but then once you get to the beach, the air isn’t so bad,” Coulter said.

Parsons advises beachgoers to leave an area of ​​the beach where they see dead fish, or an itchy or watery nose.

“But the good news is that red tide is really bad, so you can probably go a few miles down the beach and find a perfectly clear, safe area,” he said.

Yet, another problem is now looming: a 5,000-mile-wide patchwork of seaweed clusters in the Atlantic Ocean that is making its way to the Caribbean and Mexico – and the coasts of Florida.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the mass is known as sargassum, a brown seaweed that floats massively.

“There are really big sargassum blooms right now,” Parsons said. “They’re washing up on Caribbean beaches in Miami, and it looks like it’s our turn. And that’s not going to be a positive thing.”

As biomass degrades, it releases gases like hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs and is harmful, he said.

Lee Cohen and Caitlin O’Kane contributed to this article.

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