Red Tide Is Hitting Florida Beaches & Here's Why It's Harmful To Humans

It's present on one major coast.

Florida Associate Editor
Red tide on the beach. Right: A sea of red tide.

Red tide on the beach. Right: A sea of red tide.

If you're headed to Florida's beaches and the ocean looks as though it's a crimson shade, it's most likely because certain towns are seeing high concentrations of toxic algae blooms in the water, also known as "red tide."

This single-celled phytoplankton is harmful to both marine life and humans, and is currently on Florida's West Coast. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), it's being seen in the Naples area all the way up to St. Petersburg.

The FWC's website states that Karenia brevis is the most common culprit for harmful algal blooms (HABs), or red tide, per its usual name. The organism produces brevetoxins that can be fatal to fish, birds and other animals.

For that reason, when red tide comes around, you'll notice dead fish washing up on the shores of the Sunshine State, as the concentrations of Karenia brevis make the sea conditions not as livable for marine life.

Because of this, outbreaks of HABs in Florida directly impact the towns' economy, as beaches are a large part of local tourism.

What does red tide do to humans?

The phytoplankton's brevetoxin is also toxic to humans, causing a variety of issues.

Breathing in the air around red tide can cause respiratory irritation in some people, and fans of shellfish could suffer from Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning, where your dinner is exposed to the microscopic algae before ending on your plate.

According to the FWC, people in the southwest FL area have reported respiratory irritation, suspected to be linked to the current outbreak of HABs.

What is the cause of red tide?

Red tide is caused when there are harmful algal blooms (HABs). When certain bacteria multiply, such as Karenia brevis, multiply in large quantities is can change the color of the ocean and be harmful to organisms.

According to the Department of Environmental Conservation in New York, HABs are triggered by excess nutrients, a lot of exposure to sunlight, calm water, and warm temperatures.

Karenia brevis, in particular, thrives in a salty environment, as per the FWC's website.

Is red tide present in Florida right now?

Currently, the FWC is seeing cases along Florida's Gulf Coast. The organization reports that red tide is usually seen in the summer or fall, so it has come a bit early to the Gulf Coast this year.

The algae is expected to move north from Pinellas County and Monroe County in the next 3-4 days. You can keep track of where red tide is hitting on the FWC website.

Is it OK to swim in red tide?

The FWC advises you not to swim in the areas affected during this time.

Due to the toxic nature of the bacteria, you can experience burning in your eyes, irritated skin and even rashes.

This article's cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.

Jenna Kelley
Florida Associate Editor
Jenna Kelley is an Associate Editor for Narcity’s USA Desk focused on trends and celebrities in Florida and is based in Miami-Fort Lauderdale in Florida.