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Sun Times Feature Story

Sun Times Issue 10.11.2018

Red Tide Is Impacting

Our Beaches

Ocean Rescue Personnel Monitoring The Spread of These Harmful Algae Blooms

By Larry Blustein
For the past two years, we have heard all about the red tide off the coast of Florida, but until, now, we really didn’t need to be concerned.

With our coastline a major part of why people live and visit this area of the state, to have this kind of alert is truly something that will hurt an economy that banks on everything this time of year.

Drifting throughout the ocean, invisible to the naked eye, are innumerable microscopic algae. They come in many shapes and sizes—some geometrically beautiful, like the diatoms, and others, like the dinoflagellates, swim in a distinctive whirling pattern. These tiny algae are essential components to ocean life as they fuel the food web by harnessing light energy from the sun. But when supplied with excess nutrients, they can multiply uncontrollably, becoming an unwanted mass commonly called a “red tide” that smothers nearby ocean life.

“This is something that all of us have to be concerned with for a number of reasons,” Alison Parker of Hollywood explained. “This massive growth of algae can become harmful to both the environment and humans. That cannot be good at all.”

At a time when many of us are still watching the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico during this active hurricane season, scientists are very concerned with these harmful algae blooms or HABs.

When nutrients from inland areas flow down rivers and arrive in the ocean they supply a nutritious feast for algae, causing them to rapidly grow. This can happen naturally as rivers flood and bring nutrient-rich soil from forests and grasslands, but it can also happen when fertilizer and excrement from livestock travel down those same waterways, or when coastal development leads to excess erosion.

Some algae species, like the dinoflagellate Karenia brevis, color the ocean surface a deep red, inspiring the name “red tide.” But not all red tides are red and not all of them even become dense enough to color the water. There are also “brown tides” which can be damaging as well.

What has happened this past week - from Halouver Beach through Sunny Isles Beach, Hallandale Beach, Hollywood Beach and Dania Beach is that life has certainly been disrupted along beaches that are very popular this time of year.

Humans are impacted by the algae’s toxins. A particularly bad algae bloom will not only smell nasty enough to repel beachgoers, it can also cause illness to swimmers. Beach closures became necessary and can bruise our tourism industry.

“We were going to spend Saturday at the beach,” North Miami Beach resident Colleen Nelson said. “My sister came down from Nashville with her kids and we were all going to make a day of it.”

It’s not only about recreation. What is caught in our waters is usually at local restaurants within days. Staying away from shellfish, which naturally accumulate the toxins as they filter algae from the water for food, can be very dangerous. Consumption of tainted shellfish can lead to a serious illness that includes digestion issues, tingling sensations, a rapid heartbeat, coordination problems, or even death when medical treatment is not quickly sought after.

Not only do red tides create temporarily toxic oceans, they can also deplete the water of dissolved oxygen, causing a phenomenon known as a dead zone. When the algae die, they become a feast for microbes, like bacteria.

In Hallandale Beach, officials have continued to monitor - just like they have in northeast Miami-Dade and along Broward as well.

“Our Ocean Rescue personnel have accounted for approximately 5 more dead fish along our beach - 10 in two days,” Mayor Keith London released in a statement. “The lifeguards have stated their symptoms were similar over the weekend, but tolerable. All Ocean Rescue personnel have been issued N95 masks to protect themselves from inhalation issues.”

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