Red Tide Explained I Do We Need to Worry and What Can We Do?

Drew JohnsonUncategorizedLeave a Comment

Before we (figuratively) dive into the red tide, we want to share with our readers a part of our passion. Yes; Lagerhead Cycleboats was created to provide our cruise members with the time of their life—tons of fun out on the ocean, but we also named our boats after the Loggerhead Sea Turtle as a play on words to pay tribute to these fantastic creatures! 

We believe in respecting sea life and finding ways to co-harmonize with the animals that share the waters with us. This summer, a tragic and significant red tide has swept through 130 miles of South Florida affecting both coasts—from Fort Lauderdale to Fort Myers. Red Tide is the common name for Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB). These events are characterized by an overgrowth of colonies of algae that produce toxic effects on marine and human life. 


Red Tide

The red tide the Gulf of Mexico is experiencing is one of the worst recorded in history. The algae blooms so harmful that many Florida residents are reporting health issues and Gov. Rick Scott issued a state of emergency for seven counties. Unfortunately, marine life is ultimately the primary sufferers of a red tide event. It truly pains our hearts to hear reports of the death toll this summer’s red tide has claimed. We’re out on the water every day and have an innate appreciation for the life underneath our paddles. 

Lagerhead Cycleboats wants to add to the dialogue of how red tide impacts the coastal waterways and what we can do to help! 

Where Does Red Tide Come From? 

Red tide, or Harmful Algal Blooms, have been reported since the 1500s when Spanish explorers first recorded the sights and smell of what modern day scientists characterize as a HAB. Almost every coastal state has reported red tide. The event typically takes place in the late summer, and some years the algae bloom is so insignificant it’s not even reported. 

In Florida, the causality is a tiny plant-algae called Karenia Brevis. This alga produces toxins scientists call brevetoxins, which cause neurological and gastrointestinal health issues when consumed. When this K. Brevis algae saturates in the Gulf of Mexico, this results in marine conditions that cause red tide. Fish, manatees, and other sea creatures all end up perishing after living within waters with an overabundance of K. Brevis. The water turns a rusty red as animals wash ashore by the thousands while we all hold our noses, attempting to not breathe in noxious fumes being blown in from the shore. 

This year, the algae bloom swelled to effect 130 miles of South Florida’s coast, leave 400 sea turtles dead, and massive amounts of the fish population to die and wash ashore. 

The bloom began in mid-October of last year but has gained more traction this summer. Typically, red tide K.Brevis concentrations float around 1,000 cells per liter. This summer, the cell concentrations have averaged 10 million cells per liter. This is why the marine animal death tolls have been so high—the abundance of algal toxins in the water. Many scientists have reported cell counts at 140 million per liter in select areas of the bloom. On top of oceanic K. Brevis concentrations, many of Florida’s inland waterways are also suffering from a different algae bloom of cyanobacteria. These conditions have a created a ‘perfect storm’ environment for red tide along South Florida’s coast. 

Are Humans to Blame?

Red Tide being humans’ fault is something many of us have wondered. It’s important to note that K. Brevis algae are natural marine plants that always have a presence in the water column. When a HAB occurs, the conditions are promotive—salinity levels, water temperatures, light saturation, chemistry, and currents all catalyze a bloom blown to coast by the wind. 

Many deduce that the algae feed off the nutrient-rich agricultural run-off from farmlands which serve to perpetuate the K. Brevis algae. Sugar development in lands around Lake Okeechobee that filter into the waterways after heavy rains from Hurricane Irma also presents a solid argument that humans have a hand in the prevalence of this summers red tide. A 2008 study analyzed the last 50 years of data from the South Florida seacoast. This study points toward HAB events being 13 to 18-fold what they have been in the past. 

Studies like this provide evidence that humans may potentially be making matters worse for the ocean conditions where K. Brevis grows. Scientists are still exploring the causality of this summers red tide conditions, but the human element is always something to keep in mind. 

How Does Red Tide Effect Lagerhead Boat Tours? 

Both locations of Lagerhead Cycleboats have not been affected by red tide in the same manner. Fort Lauderdale has had little issues with red tide so far, but  Fort Myers is dealing with a shoreline coated in dead fish debris many have postponed their visits to what’s usually a paradise under the sun. 

If conditions are unfavorable, our policy is to provide you with a rain check or full refund. Any cancellations due of boat tours due to red tide will result in either a rain check or refund. Furthermore, if you come out with us and do not feel well, we will offer you a 100% refund. Everyone is affected by red tide differently, so we do our best to cancel trips beforehand when it is bad.

The best way to know if you’ll be able to make it onboard our cruises is to give us a call before booking. Our docks are right on the Fort Myers and Fort Lauderdale waterways and we’re constantly scanning the weather radars. 

We stay attuned to the sea; so, we can advise you on the best times to launch off on your paddle boat excursion! 

Lagerhead’s Mission for Red Tide

Our Lagerhead Captains and First Mates grew up on the water and have better sea legs than land. Part of our businesses’ mission statement is to regard the marine life with respect, especially during our tours where we could accidentally disturb ocean animals. We do everything in our power to ensure our boat tours accommodate creatures from land and sea! 

We do this by continuing the dialogue of all things coexistence. We respect both everyone’s opinions and every animals’ right to life. If you would like to help get involved in the restoration of South Florida’s coastal waterways—call the MOTE Marine or Florida Fish and Wildlife. This is especially important if you notice a particularly slimy outbreak in a canal or a marine animal that is suffering. Even when these organizations can’t help, the pure fact that they can collect data supports scientific understanding behind Harmful Algal Blooms. 

Aboard Lagerhead, all things live by ways of water! 

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