What causes red tide off the Southwest Florida coast?

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What causes red tide? The algae that keeps making headlines can have a huge affect on wildlife in Southwest Florida.

Red tide can work its way up the food chain. It affects fish, manatees, birds and has toxins that can harm us.

In a five-year offshore study from 2014, researchers looked at the different potential nutrients that support red tide.

“Offshore, it’s the other algae that fix nitrogen. Inshore, it might be river flow or settlement release. So it just depends on where you are,” said Kellie Dixon.

Dixon is a scientist at Mote Marine Laboratory and was onboard for the study, which also included Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation.

She says they found at least 12 different nutrients that keep red tide alive and well. These include sediments under the sea, water flowing out of estuaries and nutrients from other algae.

“It depends on where the bloom is, as to which source is more important,” said Dixon.

Researchers tell WINK News that everything is interconnected.

“Nature is very messy. Karenia brevis is a very talented organism, it can use nutrients from many different sources.”

Until now, red tide has been unpredictable. With these new findings, that red tide changes its diet depending on where it is located, researchers can make recommendations on how to control the nutrient sources and potentially forecast where the debilitating algae is headed next.

This story originally published on November 7, 2014.

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