Researching the effects of red tide

Reporter: Elizabeth Biro
Published: Updated:

On Sanibel, you can’t escape the smell of dead fish.

And on the shore, you can’t escape the dead fish.

“People are familiar with the red tide smell. But that’s from decay, what you really smell, the actual toxins you cannot smell,” said Manny Aparicio, Calusa Waterkeeper board member.

Aparicio said we know the short-term impacts of the toxins, coughing, sneezing and watery eyes.

“Some people are very sensitive to it. So they’ll start to feel the effects,” Aparicio said.

But Aparicio said we don’t know much about the long-term effects.

“It’s not just respiratory, there’s gastrointestinal effects,” Aparicio said. “In particular, we’re very interested in the neurological, neurodegenerative diseases that many of these toxins may cause.”

You don’t have to be in the water or right by a bloom to be affected by it. Research shows you can be miles away and airborne toxins can be present.

A 2018 FGCU research study backs that up.

That’s where Adam comes in, the aerosol detector for harmful algae monitoring.

The Calusa Waterkeeper sets Adam up at sites from up the Caloosahatchee River down to Sanibel.

“There’s an air pump that’s inside here. And you can see through the tubing, it’s pulling the air through. So essentially, it’s breathing over a 24-hour period,” Aparicio said.

As the air goes through, it captures any toxins using two methods: in this filter and in this water. These samples are then sent to brain chemistry labs in Wyoming.

The goal is to understand better what people are exposed to when a bloom like this occurs.

Those samples sites are checked every two weeks.

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