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A Massive ‘Red Tide’ Is Threatening Florida Beaches — and Scientists Haven’t Seen One So Large in Nearly a Decade


“You start wheezing and coughing and you have to wear a surgical mask or move inland.”

A toxic red tide blooming off the coast of Florida has killed about one-thousand sea creatures and may soon pose a minor health threat to humans.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the red tide occurs when Karenia brevis, a microscopic algae, begins to multiply quickly in numbers.

Image source: Google The red tide's trajectory has the bloom striking Florida's southwestern shore by the end of August. (Image source: Google)

The red tide is not unusual, but this year’s bloom is the largest since 2005, scientists say. Researchers estimate it stretches 90 miles long and is 60 miles wide, the Sentinel reported.

“These kinds of blooms damage wildlife, people, tourism, everything,” Don Anderson, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, told NBC News. “It can kill fish by the millions.”

[sharequote align="center"]“It can kill fish by the millions.”[/sharequote]

In fact, the red tide, which releases a toxin that attacks the central nervous system of sea creatures, has already claimed the lives of about 1,000 of fish this year, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

And it’s current trajectory has it headed toward Florida’s southwestern shore, according to the Sentinel, which warns that the algae can release toxins in the air.

“When the wind blows, you can’t really breath,” Anderson, who has personally fallen victim to it, told NBC News. “You start wheezing and coughing and you have to wear a surgical mask or move inland.”

The toxins are not deadly to humans, but can exasperate symptoms associated with conditions such as asthma or emphysema or cause individuals to develop a skin rash, according to the Sentinel.

Scientists have no way of controlling blooms, despite them costing the U.S. about $82 million each year, NBC News reported.

"The red tide that pops up off the coast of Florida is very unpredictable," Quay Dortch, an algal bloom researcher at the NOAA, told NBC News. "In a couple of years, hopefully we will be able to get it down to individual beaches, so it will have less of an impact on tourism, because it really affects tourism."

Follow Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) on Twitter

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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