Red tide one year later

Published: October 16, 2018 6:13 PM EDT
Updated: October 16, 2018 6:19 PM EDT
Dead fish on the beach. Photo via WINK News.
Dead fish on the beach. Photo via WINK News.

People are laying out, enjoying the sun and soaking in the water at Bonita Beach. After nearly a year, it seems like southwest Florida residents can move on from the red tide disaster that has decimated marine life and drastically distressed businesses.

Local experts say, not so fast.

“It creates a nasty kind of cough for you,” Andrew Dempsey said, who works at the Bait Shop in Lover’s Key. “It makes you nauseous.”

Dempsey is referring to red tide. When it was bad, the toxins made him sick. Now that conditions seem to be improving, he’s just sick of hearing about the algae blooms.

“Business has been really slow,” Dempsey said. “Slower than normal.”

Last October, data collected by the Florida Wildlife Commission, showed low levels of red tide found in Sarasota County. By November, medium levels were found in both Lee and Charlotte County.

It has been the worst red tide local residents and businesses have seen in a decade.

“If it’s been bad,” Marlene Smith said, a frequent visitor, “it’s only been for a few days and then it dissipates.”

The reason for the duration of the toxic blooms is complicated.

“If it was as simple as you put in Caloosahtachee water and get a red tide, then we would have figured it out decades ago,” Dr. Mike Parsons said, a marine science professor from Florida Gulf Coast University.

He attributes the low oxygen levels and the nutrients brought in from the mixing of water in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caloosahatchee River, as having helped red tide strengthen.

“As some of those organisms, especially the dead fish, decay, they’re actually releasing nutrients into the water,” Parsons said.

Although Hurricane Michael replenished our water with oxygen, the levels his team at FGCU have been testing lately show evidence of red tide levels going down.

But, he warns, “red tide could come back. We need to monitor closely.”