For months, Florida’s beaches have been plagued by red tide: a kind of algae bloom that can kill marine life and harm humans who are exposed to it. The most recent bloom has lasted for months, and few beaches along the Sunshine State’s western coast have been untouched. That’s created major problems both for those oceanside ecosystems and for tourism. It’s a situation that some Texans are watching with interest, since the Gulf Coast is no stranger to red tide.
Tony Reisinger is a coastal and marine resources agent for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension service, for Cameron County and the Texas Sea Grant in south Texas. Reisinger says that while the exact cause of red tide is not known, scientists are aware that the Bay of Campeche is the source of previous red tide blooms in the Gulf along the Texas coast. The Bay of Campeche is located in the southern region of the Gulf of Mexico, between the Yucatán Peninsula and the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, just south of Texas.
The last red tide bloom in Texas “was in September,” Reisinger says. “A device called a cytobot, in Port Aransas picked up elevated numbers of cells. I think it was 30 cells in six milliliters and that’s a little bit elevated. It’s more than background.”
Reisinger says the elevated levels of red tide blooms in the Gulf quickly migrated north, mitigating any damage which could be done to Texas coastal wildlife or residents. Reisinger says red tide blooms pose issues for residents and animals because those who have asthma and respiratory issues are irritated by the neurotoxin in red tide cells, brevetoxin. Reisinger says this is caused by heavier blooms, made up of cells called unarmored dinoflagellates which are aerosolized in the surf of the beach.
“We were lucky,” Reisinger says. “You could probably attribute it to several things. It could be the winds, the currents. We did have a cold water upwelling this summer. Red tide likes hot, calm water.”
Red tide can cause significant harm, not only to people, but fish as well. In 1986, Reisinger says the worst red tide bloom to hit Texas killed over 22 million fish. He says the bloom spread throughout the whole state, where mammals who are also susceptible to brevetoxin potentially suffered.
“We’ve seen dogs die from inhaling, we suspect, foam that’s on the beach,” Reisinger says. “We’ve seen Mexican Ground Squirrels die, Pelicans, lots of animals affected by it too.”
As it is a naturally occurring event, Reisinger says there really isn’t a way to prepare for a red tide bloom. He says they are occurring more frequently, clocking in at around a dozen blooms since the one in 1986. Before that, Reisinger says there had only been three reported blooms in Texas.
Written by Brooke Sjoberg.