Droves of sharks have cornered themselves deep within Florida’s canals. Blacktips, bonnethead, lemon, and nurse sharks are seeking refuge from doom lying just beyond the coast. What are they swimming away from? An unprecedented bloom of red tide.
Red tide happens when Karenia brevis, a specific form of algae, blooms and overloads our ocean waters with harmful toxins that are deadly for local wildlife. This algae depletes the area of oxygen and other vital nutrients for fish and sharks.
“You just don’t normally see sharks piling up like that in these canals, they do go in there but not in the huge numbers that we’re seeing reported,” said Mike Heithaus, professor at Florida International University and dean of its college of arts, sciences and education, who happens to be a shark expert.
“We don’t know what the trigger might be for those sharks going to those areas, but the changes in the chemistry of the water, the oxygen being pulled out of the water, the toxins, combined with the amount of dead fish around, any of those could cause these big concentrations,” he added.
“If the conditions are really bad outside that canal, they might be stuck until the conditions get to the point where there’s enough oxygen or there aren’t toxins if they were to leave the canals,” Heithaus said.
“But at the same time, if those conditions go south in the canal there’s nowhere left to run. They can’t run if it’s not safe outside so it’s really hard to say.”
What Causes Red Tide?
There are several things that cause red tide. Everything from warming oceans due to global warming to chemicals from farming, factories and sewage treatments runoff dissolves into our groundwater and then leaks into the ocean. All of these factors cause the algae to grow faster and in larger and larger blooms.
In fact, the current algae bloom in the Gulf of Mexico, terrorizing Texas and Florida alike, can be seen from space.
But sharks aren’t the only wildlife that is being impacted by this bloom. Mountains of dead fish (over 900 tons according to an article here) have been piling up on the shores of Tampa Bay – fish bathed in the toxins caused by these algae blooms.As the fish pile up, sea birds scramble to the shores for easy pickings, which in turn, hurts the and can even kill the birds.
Red tides have been reported off the Florida coast since the 16th century, and they’ve probably been around for muchlonger. But four of the five longest-lasting red tides recorded in Florida have occurred in the past three decades, including the devastating 2018 bloom that killed some 2,000 tons of sea life and cost an estimated $8 million in tourism loss.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection “is able to commit” $2.1 million to clean up coasts in Pinellas County, including St. Petersburg, and “has resources to provide additional assistance.”
And while Florida and other states may have been prepared for these algae blooms, we are wondering what we can do to further prevent future red tides that have been exacerbated by human activities. Your thoughts?
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