Home / Red tide growing off Southwest Florida coast after Ian

Red tide growing off Southwest Florida coast after Ian

Reporter: Emma Heaton
Published: Updated:

Hurricane Ian left its mark on almost all of Southwest Florida.

And a big part of that damage went to our water quality.

Red tide started growing off the coast after the storm.

FGCU Water School Professor Mike Parsons said the main concern about red tide is the toxins in the air.

If you’re down at the beach and you kind of feel the sea spray in the air or on your skin, the red tide toxins can be mixed in with the air you’re breathing in, and that could cause respiratory irritation.

It could cause a cough, which for people with asthma, can be dangerous.

But then again, most Gulf Coast beaches aren’t considered safe after Ian, anyway.

Many beaches in Southwest Florida are dirty and damaged.

“The big question with the hurricane would be, how it influences the nutrients for our coastal waters and how that would affect red tide,” Parsons said.

Red tide is something that often shows up after a hurricane.

Ian was no exception but not necessarily to blame.

“I think one thing to stress is that red tide is a natural phenomenon,” Parsons said.

Red tide started showing up about six days ago. Now, there is a higher concentration of it.

“The two questions are, how much of it is the cell division factor, how much of it is the currents bringing more of it in from offshore and spreading it out? So basically, a combination of taking these water samples along the coastline. And then looking at some of the modeling that University of South Florida does, where you can see the ocean currents and combination you can kind of get a sense of is it the ocean currents spreading it around? Is it the cells dividing? And so it’s a combination of both usually,” Parsons said.

Parsons said he and other scientists are working hard to find out how to mitigate the spread of red tide.

The problem is by the time it’s detected, it’s usually too big.

For now, aquatic biologist Patrick Rose said they aren’t seeing a lot of problems from red tide immediately.

“Some of it off the Fort Myers area, Lee County are a little bit farther offshore, so it’s going to one it really is a problem for manatees even more serious when it moves in some of the bays in Charlotte Harbor. Of course, we had problems last year in Tampa Bay, as well. And so really, it’s going to be that nearshore habitat and the red tides, it begins to proliferate in those areas, we’re going to have fish kills, we’re going to have manatees affected,” said Rose, executive director of Save the Manatee Club.

In the winter months, manatees float to warmer waters, Rose said. But if they don’t head out before red tide comes in, it could be fatal.

“We’ve had a history of that with other hurricanes. But it’s not an absolute black-and-white situation,” Rose said. “But what we do know is the brava toxins produced from red tide can not only kill fish by the hundreds and thousands and millions, but they’re very, they’re very destructive that neurotoxin from red tide can paralyze manatees, cause them to drown, have spasms and so forth,” Rose said.

In 2018, about 300 manatees died from red tide complications.

November is Manatee Awareness Month. You can help protect them by looking out for a few things.

If a manatee is acting strange, like putting its head high above the water and arching its back, that indicates they’re being affected by red tide.

In that case, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.