An unseasonable outbreak of red tide has scientists worried that migrating manatees may swim into the potentially deadly algae.
TAMPA, Fla. An unseasonable outbreak of red tide has scientists worried that migrating manatees may swim into the potentially deadly algae.
The red tide, which formed in the Gulf of Mexico about 30 miles off Tampa Bay in early January, has moved nearer shore and south. It stretches from north of Anna Maria Isle south to Venice.
Red tide normally occurs from August through September. A winter bloom spells peril for manatees, which start moving out of warm water in rivers and estuaries in late February and early March, said Elsa Haubold, administrator for marine mammal research at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.
Haubold said there is a danger of a repeat of 2002 and 2003, when red tide killed 34 and 96 manatees, respectively.
A bloom forming in winter on the southwest coast likely will remain along the manatee migration routes as they move north from the Caloosahatchee River. The animals congregate there during the winter to be near the warm waters around the Florida Power & Light power plant near Fort Myers.
Haubold said the public should look out for manatees that seem to be in distress. Scientists have been able to save every manatee but one effected by red tide that has been reported to the institute.
Although they have no data to support it, scientists are speculating that nutrients flushed into coastal waters by last year's four hurricanes could be responsible for the January red tide, said Cynthia Heil of the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.
Red tide is formed when Karenia brevis, a microscopic algae, reproduces at an explosive rate, forming a bloom. Nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen are known to fuel that explosion.
Minor fish kills have been reported from the tide, but there have been no incidents of massive numbers of dead fish being washed up on Gulf beaches, Heil said. A fisherman alerted the institute about the red tide when his bait started dying.
Red tide is known to cause breathing problems in people when the algae's toxic spores become airborne. The effects can be serious for people with breathing problems such as asthma.
Source: Associated Press