Toxic bloom plagues Florida’s Gulf Coast


A deadly toxic bloom is killing vast amounts of marine life along Florida’s Gulf Coast.A toxic algae bloom is sweeping Florida’s southern Gulf Coast devastating sea life and driving people out of the water and off the beach.

The red tide – a naturally occurring toxic algae bloom that can be harmful to people with respiratory problems – has now spread throughout the Gulf of Mexico after it began drifting in October.

It stretches 240 kilometres and is affecting communities from Naples in the south to Anna Maria Island in the north and appears to be moving northward.

Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in seven counties on Monday along Florida’s Gulf and ordered $US1.5 million for the clean-up and to help businesses hit by dwindling tourists.

“I’ve never seen it this bad,” said local hairdresser Heather Lamb of Venice.

Lamb styled herself as a dead mermaid and posted photos on social media to raise awareness of the problem.

“I feel like it cleanses your soul to go to the beach. For me to not be able to go, it’s painful. I think a lot of people take for granted when they live in Florida. Some people save their paychecks for a whole year to come here.”

The algae turns the water toxic for marine life and in recent weeks dead turtles, large fish like the goliath grouper and manatees, likened to a sea cow, have been washing up on beaches.

An eight metre whale shark came ashore on Sanibel Island – known for its pristine beaches – in late July. While in places like Longboat Key over five tonnes of dead fish have been removed from beaches.

This week, nine dead dolphins were found in Sarasota County.

The Florida Wildlife Research Institute says the number of dead and stranded sea turtles is nearly three times higher than average.

More than 450 stranded and dead sea turtles have been recovered in four affected counties this year, and the institute estimates that 250 to 300 died from red tide poisoning.

The stench is also impossible to ignore.

“I can’t describe the smell. It’s like unbelievable. It makes you throw up,” Holmes Beach resident Alex Kuizon said.

Why this year’s red tide is so intense is up for debate.

Some researchers have noticed aggressive blooms after hurricanes; Irma swept past Florida’s Gulf Coast in the summer of 2017 and a period of red tide affected Florida after the powerful 2004-2005 hurricanes.

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