Red Tide has been a persistent presence in the Panhandle since September and responsible for many reported fish kills and respiratory distress in some people. Over the past week, red tide was still present in low to medium concentrations in or offshore of Escambia County to Bay County.
Red tide is a natural occurrence and Florida experienced red tides long before humans settled here. The tides originate 10-40 miles off shore and winds and currents bring them inshore. Red tide is fueled by nutrient typically stemming from land-based runoff.
During winter, the northerly winds and southbound currents will push the tide back offshore. There was hope that Hurricane Michael might help carry the red tide back out to sea. Unfortunately, it seems the nutrient run-off from the storm’s heavy rain or retreating storm surge may have contributed to the intensity and duration of the bloom.
In our economy, which is heavily dependent on tourism, the red tide is continuing to take a toll, especially on waterfront businesses. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, store-bought and restaurant served shellfish are safe to eat during a red tide bloom because shellfish are monitored for safety and tested for red tide toxins before they are sold. The edible parts of crabs, shrimp and fish are not affected by the red tide organism and can be eaten, but guts should be discarded.
Many remember the local red tide bloom in 2015. The longest red tide bloom ever recorded lasted 30 months from 1994 to 1997. Warmer water due to climate change is predicted to cause algae to bloom more often, more intensely, and in more water bodies. It is imperative that we reduce nutrient inputs to our lakes, rivers, estuaries and coastal ocean waters today.