'Insane': World-famous tourist hotspot decimated by toxic crisis

·News and Video Producer
·3-min read

Horrifying satellite images show a massive sea of algae swamping parts of the United States coastline.

The massive Karenia brevis bloom, known as a red tide, is currently affecting up to 200km of Florida’s coastline, and killing fish, sharks, birds and other marine life that enter its toxic path.

First noticed in December 2020 in southwest Florida, the algae has been transported northward into Tampa Bay.

Satellite images show the red tide worsening between June 8 (left) and June 29 (right). Black shows regular water, green is low chlorophyll and red high. Source: NOAA
Satellite images show the red tide worsening between June 8 (left) and June 29 (right). Black shows regular water, green is low chlorophyll and red high. Source: NOAA

Recent images from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show how levels of chlorophyll increased from June into July, with red indicating high concentrations. 

On the ground, NOAA have noted the microscopic spores have become aerosolised and are triggering asthma attacks.

NOAA’s Rick Stumpf told Yahoo News Australia that while the agency are providing respiratory irritation forecasts to help beachgoers, the stench of rotting fish is affecting tourism.

“This is a major tourism area, so smelly dead fish are bad,” he said.

“The respiratory irritation does cause people to stop using the beach.”

Hundreds of tonnes of dead fish removed from waters

Video shared to TikTok last week by animal lover Paul Cuffaro show the Tampa Bay choked with dead fish.

Pointing to a waterfront home, he is shocked by the situation. 

Videos uploaded to social media highlight the masses of marine life killed by the red tide. Source: paulcuffaro / TikTok
Videos uploaded to social media highlight the masses of marine life killed by the red tide. Source: paulcuffaro / TikTok

"Imagine spending all that money on this house and this is what your backyard looks like," someone says from behind the camera. 

"That is insane."

His page is littered with videos of affected marine life, with one featuring a dead manatee and another showing a massive grouper carcass being hauled onto the beach by machinery.

Agencies estimate they have removed hundreds of tonnes of dead marine creatures from the waters. 

Environmentalists point to cause of worsening situation

While blooms have been recorded in the Gulf of Mexico since the 1840s, their severity appears to be worsening.

Yoca Arditi-Rocha from climate awareness group The Cleo Institute told Yahoo News Australia “they have never been this bad”.

She points to climate change as exacerbating the issue along with a build up of nutrients including fertilisers, but says the state is not doing enough to combat the issue.

Satellite images from July 5 and July 13 show the spread of chlorophyll in Florida's waters. Source: NOAA
Satellite images from July 5 and July 13 show the spread of chlorophyll in Florida's waters. Source: NOAA

While algae naturally accumulates between 15 and 65 kilometres offshore, once it is transported inshore by currents and winds, it is exacerbated by nutrients.

Some environmentalists have expressed concern that the millions of gallons of nutrient-rich water pumped into Tampa Bay in April by the former Piney Point phosphorus plant may be contributing to current conditions.

NOAA confirmed that while the dump did intensify blooms in April and early May, data from June onward is yet to be analysed and so a connection remains unproven.

While the situation is said to be improving, they predict many species of fish will be affected for years to come and the full impact of the red tide is unknown. 

Which areas have been affected?

Since December NOAA reports that affected communities included Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee, and Collier counties.

What species of fish are affected?

According to NOAA, some of the affected fish species are Common Snook, Red and Black Drum, Triggerfish, Tarpon, Eel, Goliath and Gag Grouper and other unidentified grouper species, snapper species, Cowfish and Pufferfish, Flying fish, Menhaden, Southern and other unidentified stingrays, Spotted Seatrout, baitfish, Hardhead and Gafftopsail Catfish, and mullet species, Grunt, Jack Crevalle, Flounder and Pinfish, Spadefish, Sheepshead, Whiting, and Horseshoe and Blue Crabs and scallops and clams.

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