Tampa Red Tide: All You Need to Know

Some red tides are deadly, while others are just annoying. Here’s more information about red tides and what’s happening in Tampa Bay at the moment.

tampa red tide
Tampa Red Tide

What is a Red Tide?

To begin, we need to understand what a red tide is. A red tide is a type of harmful algal bloom (or HAB) that happens when colonies of algae overgrow in an area.

An excess of algae, especially poisonous kinds, can spread into the food chain and make fish and shellfish unsafe to eat. Red tides got their name from often turning the water red. This is because of the pigmentation in the algae species that causes them..

Although people often think of algal blooms as being dangerous, the opposite is true for most cases. In fact, these tiny plant organisms are usually helpful because they provide food for numerous animals living in the ocean.

Algae is a crucial element in the ocean, as most sea creatures rely on it for sustenance. That being said, when toxic algae blooms do occur (albeit rarely), local wildlife that isn’t affected by the bloom can be difficult to come by.

When blooms of algae die and decompose, they can lower oxygen levels in the water around them. This change forces wildlife to leave the area or risk dying.

What is the Tampa Red Tide?

Almost certainly, the surge in blooms throughout Tampa Bay is a result of humans. Over 200 million gallons of polluted water were purposely dumped into the bay between late March and early April by a fertilizer plant located in Manatee County, Florida.

The state of Florida allowed this to happen because professional regulators feared the nearby reservoir was on the verge of collapse. This put dozens of neighborhoods and businesses at risk of a severe flood. Instead of pushing the limits of the reservoir, it was emptied into the nearby bay. 

The Florida wildlife agency has declared that red tides have been seen in the gulf since as early as the 1700’s. There are even records of Spanish explorers mentioning them.

dead fish tampa bay
Dead Fish in Tampa Bay

The precise cause of red tide is unknown. However, scientists have observed that these algal blooms appear to be influenced by environmental factors. This includes sunlight, nutrients, salinity, and the direction and speed of the wind and water currents.

According to researchers, it’s probable that the most recent winds blowing from the south led to increased tides in Tampa Bay. Scientists think that a lack of freshwater due to drought combined with high levels of salt make an estuary environment where algae can thrive and cause red tide conditions.

Tides can last anywhere from a week to an entire year. Because they ebb and flow, it can be difficult to predict when the next one will start.

In Summary

Even though researchers have found that the red tide blooms are not as bad as they were in the past, they are still affecting Florida’s coastlines.

Make sure to be choosy about where you swim. Never let any animals drink the water if there’s an algae bloom present. If the bloom is particularly bad, it can cause permanent neurological damage.

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