Red tide is on its way to Tampa Bay! What do you know about red tide? Most people don’t know much beyond that it kills fish. Here is what you should know with it heading our way.
What is red tide?
Red tide is a harmful algal bloom (HAB) that happens when algae colonies grow out of control and produce toxics that can harm and potentially kill both people and animals. The HAB that is currently making its way into the Tampa area is called karenia brevis. Karenia brevis is always present in the Gulf of Mexico but does not present any notable danger until it begins to bloom at concentrations that are higher than normal. Karenia brevis creates brevetoxins that can lead to a whole host of health concerns and some of which can potentially be fatal.
Why is red tide dangerous?
Red tide is harmful to animals both because its toxins affect the central nervous system and because it can deplete the water of oxygen resulting in the animals basically suffocating. Not only do harmful concentrations build in the affected sea animals it also collects in the sea grasses and other plants. Then the affects move up the food chain. Animals that ingest affected plants and animals also suffer from the toxins. Signs and symptoms of exposure include difficulty breathing, confusion and disorientation, paralysis and weakness.
Humans can also experience the affects of red tide from either breathing in toxins that have become airborne or eating affected seafood. When people do eat contaminated shellfish they can suffer from something know as neurotoxic shellfish poisoning. Signs and symptoms of this would be numbness of the mouth, tingling and poor coordination.
The third victim of red tide is the economy. As red tide hits common tourist cities the dead fish washing to shore and risk of health concerns deter visitors. It also prevents shellfish harvesting causing business loss in fishing communities.
What should you do if you find wildlife that is showing signs and symptoms of toxin exposure?
If you find an animal that you suspect is suffering from toxin exposure please report it immediately as early treatment is critical! If the animal is located in Tampa area including the coastal area from St. Petersburg/Ruskin to Hudson and as far inland as Lakeland give us a call or text directly at 813-598-5926. If they are outside of our service area contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Wildlife Hotline by calling (888)404-3922, or *FWC on your cell or text Tip@MyFWC.com. They will be able to either provide you with the number for a local permitted rehabilitator or dispatch someone themselves.
How can I see if there is a HAB in my area?
If you live in Florida- Mote Marine Laboratory publishes beach conditions on their Beach Conditions Reporting Systems.
For everyone else in the US (and Florida too)- the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also maintains an interactive map to track HABs on their Harmful Algal BloomS Observing System.
For more information on red tide and other HABs visit:
If you happen to find any wildlife in trouble please make sure you report it to a permitted rescue organization like Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife. We also ask that you consider making a donation to Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife so that we may continue our work to conserve and protect wildlife in the Tampa Bay Area.