The Good, The Bad and The Algae

Last week I was lucky enough to be able to vacation down to the beautiful beaches of south western Florida for SCUBA diving and sunbathing. Unfortunately, there have been some other visitors to the beaches on Gulf Coast of Florida, and they are not famous for their hospitality. Florida has been suffering from consistent visits from a Red Tide, which is a type of Harmful Algal Bloom that can be a severe deterrent for beachgoers like myself.

You may have heard of a “Red Tide” before, it has been a common occurrence on the Gulf Coast of Florida for decades and although these algae blooms are a natural process of a spike in algal growth, they can be caused by human impact and, they have the potential to ruin more than just your day at the beach. The Red Tide in Florida refers to a specific species of harmful algae called Karenia brevis and when the populations of K. brevis spike to high amounts, it is considered to be a bloom that can sometimes cause a discolor in the water.

The causes of this kind of bloom are difficult to pinpoint but, a strong possibility is agricultural runoff from the dumping of high amounts of nutrients, like nitrogen from chemical fertilizers. The Red Tide occurs mostly on the Gulf Coast of Florida, and the Gulf of Mexico is where the entire watershed of the Mississippi River eventually gets emptied into. The Mississippi watershed is about 1/3 of the continental United States, and consists mostly of farmland where heavy amounts of urea and nitrogen based fertilizers are overused and applied in excessive amounts. As rain falls, the unused nitrogen gets washed away and eventually flows down the river until it reaches the Gulf of Mexico. That agricultural runoff and excess nitrogen are very effective ways to spark an algal bloom, whether we like it or not.

Not all algae are harmful but, the Red Tide, as well as many others are considered to be Harmful Algal Blooms or HAB’s because of their impact on ecosystem health as well as human health. The algae species used in Soil Algae’s biofertilizers are non toxic and not at all related to harmful algal species. Karenia brevis is found in marine and brackish water and can kill or sicken fish, turtles, seabirds and marine mammals in the affected area. Red Tide toxins can accumulate in shellfish including clams, mussels and oysters, which could lead to Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning in humans if consumed. K. brevis is also known to cause skin irritation as well as respiratory irritation and issues in humans, especially in humans with asthma or pre existing respiratory issues. 

So, when I saw the sign on the beach stating that the Red Tide was present, I didn’t spend much time in the water! It was present in low amounts but, it still got me thinking about our impact on this planet and its ecosystems. If it was caused by agricultural runoff, how can I do my part to make sure that runoff is less severe? I think switching my own gardening methods from chemicals to a natural biofertilizer and urging others to do the same would make a great impact.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has gone through great efforts to keep the public informed on the harmful algal blooms. You can learn more about the Florida Red Tide’s status, history, abundance, effects and more at http://myfwc.com/REDTIDESTATUS