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Hurricane Michael and Deadly Red Tides — What Can Be Done?

by Countable | Updated on 10.10.18

UPDATE October 10, 2018: As Hurricane Michael threatens the Florida panhandle with what could be historic devastation, experts are weighing in on how it might interact with the nearly year-long red tide that has been plaguing Florida's western coast.

Scientists predict that the hurricane could first help to disperse the red tide, but could subsequently add fuel to additional red tide growth.

The organisms that compose a red tide are fragile, and as the hurricane churns up the region's water, it's likely to break up the ride tide and move it off the coast.

However, if the hurricane generates the flooding that's currently predicted, it's likely to send agricultural fertilizers, sewage, and other nutrients flowing into the gulf. All of those feed the toxic algae that create red tides, so it could only be a matter of time before a fresh bloom develops.

Read Countable's original story from August 16, 2018 below.


The story

On Wednesday, Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in response to the unusually severe “red tide” that has killed thousands of fish and other aquatic life, sickened people with respiratory conditions, and substantially disrupted the area’s tourism industry.

What’s a red tide?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a red tide is a type of harmful algae bloom that can produce dangerous toxins, and can lead to severe impacts on human health, aquatic ecosystems, and the economy, as is currently happening in Florida.

Florida’s red tides happen every year, although they vary significantly in severity. They are the result of a naturally occurring alga that initially develops 10 to 40 miles offshore.

Do human activities contribute to red tides?

While human activities don’t create red tides, a growing body of evidence suggests that we make them worse.

The EPA explains that harmful algae blooms require sunlight, slow-moving water, and nutrients to grow. While they initially develop offshore, away from human-contributed nutrient sources, once they move toward shore, they feed off of such nutrients for their growth.

Human activities don’t create harmful algae blooms, but they make the problem worse, making blooms more severe and more frequent.

What are human-contributed sources of nutrients?

According to the EPA, the primary human-contributed sources of nutrient pollution (excessive nitrogen and phosphorus) are:

  • Agriculture: Animal manure, excess fertilizer applied to crops and fields, and soil erosion make agriculture one of the largest sources of nutrient pollution in the country.
  • Stormwater: When precipitation falls on our cities and towns, it runs across hard surfaces – like rooftops, sidewalks and roads – and carries pollutants into local waterways.
  • Wastewater: Our sewer and septic systems are responsible for treating large quantities of waste, and these systems do not always operate properly or remove enough nutrients before discharging into waterways.
  • Fossil Fuels: Fossil fuel combustion for electric power generation, industry, transportation, and agriculture has increased the amount of nitrogen in the air.
  • In and Around the Home: Fertilizers, yard and pet waste, and certain soaps and detergents contain nitrogen and phosphorus, and can contribute to nutrient pollution if not properly handled. The amount of hard surfaces and type of landscaping can also increase nutrient runoff during wet weather.

Does climate change play a role?

While Florida red tides have been well documented for more than a century, their incidence seems to have increased since the 1950s and 1960s. Climate change could be a factor, as warmer waters can encourage algae growth. The Gulf of Mexico’s surface temperature has warmed by about two degrees Fahrenheit since 1977.

Scientists in Florida are field-testing several “promising” methods to control toxic algae blooms, and welcome the state-of-emergency declaration that sends more funding to their research.

What do you think?

Should the U.S. regulate nutrient pollution more heavily? Do more to combat climate change? Increase funding to scientific research into algae bloom-control methods? All or none of the above? Hit Take Action to tell your reps what you think, then share your thoughts below.

—Sara E. Murphy

(Photo Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission / Public Domain)

Countable

Written by Countable

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(98)
  • SirRobert
    08/16/2018
    ···

    Put someone in charge of the EPA that will take the job seriously! Pollution is not the only contributing factor but it is one that can be controlled and eliminated. The red tide gets worse every year. This year is the largest problem with over 10 Million pounds of dead fish removed from Siesta Key alone! STOP letting big business (and big campaign contributors) kill our planet!

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  • Mark
    08/16/2018
    ···

    What can be done about red tides??? ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATIONS!

    Like (40)
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  • Eric
    08/16/2018
    ···

    You can get rid of the red tides by voting and getting rid of those that deny climate change and de-regulate everything. Show up to the polls this November and make the red tides blue tides again!

    Like (38)
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  • Paul
    08/16/2018
    ···

    Fisheries and tourism are among the heart of Florida’s economy. If this isn’t addressed we Florida’s voters are fucked. Listen to the science and not the climate change denier’s and “alternative facts”

    Like (36)
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  • Beth
    08/16/2018
    ···

    Put people in office that care about ecology, EPA needs to stop approving contaminates, stopping dumping shit in water ways, start believing in climate change. Pull your heads out of your asses.

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  • Andy1
    08/16/2018
    ···

    @paxamericana- my bad, pox seemed more apt, since climate change deniers like yourself are destroying the planet. #douche #faux science

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  • Reeni
    08/16/2018
    ···

    Please support a safe, clean environment for all. The waters off the coast are a precious and fragile environment. Red tide adversely affects aquatic life, peoples health and tourist dollars.

    Like (9)
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  • C
    08/16/2018
    ···

    Too late. Too bad you didn’t “believe” in global warming back when we could have done something. Your grandchildren will curse you.

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  • KansasTamale
    08/16/2018
    ···

    Put all the environmental regulations& rules back in place, make the regulations more stringent, make cars more efficient, not less stop fracking, paying “welfare subsidies” to the oil & gas companies -going on since the early 1900s- put those subsidies toward recycling and renewable energy and put out memes that will help people conserve and recycle. Entice cities & states to do the same. It may be too late if we don’t do something NOW!!!!

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  • Jennifer
    08/16/2018
    ···

    Stop trashing environmental regulations, for starters.

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  • DiaLyn
    08/16/2018
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    Stop using Monsanto's Roundup, and it's not red tides that was the problem, it was emptying the toxic lake Okeechobee that killed the wildlife!

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  • I.Got.an.Idea...
    08/16/2018
    ···

    Regarding Red Tides, Science has proven that human-made toxins and waste products are a major contributor to the growth of Red Tide. Therefore, charge all manufacturers and users of fertilizer and other nutrient contributors for the losses and the costs to clean it up and research. Then stop all discharges of any contributing pollutants. Charge the polluters. Put Citizens and wildlife and environment first, before any profits or even any monetary losses. If you can save lives, but an unethical farm operation must close its doors, the appropriate solution and the ethical and moral solution, is to save lives, NOT corporations. Organic food production operators will move in after the unethical companies have closed their doors.

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  • Andy1
    08/17/2018
    ···

    @paxamericana - the study is from 2013. 2018 - 2013 = 5 years. Which as far as meta studies go, is pretty recent. And you can keep trying to obscure the facts all you want (cuz you’re a douche) but the science community ain’t going to buy it and neither is anybody else outside of the tinfoil hat wearing infowars crowd.

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  • burrkitty
    10/10/2018
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    Maybe Florida voters should vote for politicians who understand and accept scientific reality.

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  • PaxAmericana
    08/16/2018
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    @Andy1 How, even in your own brain, would you address me as “poxamericana” instead of “PaxAmericana?” Letting the Free Market do its job instead of the government is often, if not always, the answer. Red Tides, like Climate Change, are naturally occurring and as such should not be blamed on any one or more private human entities. #Truth

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  • operaman
    08/16/2018
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    I strongly believe that ”Mother Nature” will take care of this problem.

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  • Andy1
    08/16/2018
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    @paxamericana - 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is largely human-caused. Claiming otherwise does in fact make you a climate change denier and also, quite objectively, a douche.

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  • Marc
    08/16/2018
    ···

    Sounds like there is meaningful action that can be taken to reduce the severity into the future. But government won’t act because their donors won’t like it.

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  • Abbi
    08/16/2018
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    To fight the red tides we first need scientists in charge of all things environmental since they can track it, know what it actually is, and may be studying ways to stop it. We also need regulations and fines on big polluting companies and education for the general public in what we can do to help. But since we have Trump and none of that will happen, they are working on pumping red tide water into an ozone treatment system to remove the red alge and toxins and release the purified water back in the canal. Might even use naturally produced compounds from seaweed, parasitic algae and filter feeding organisms that could be introduced to fight red tide. Red tides are naturally occurring but pollution and climate change made it worse. We really need scientists in charge of environmental agencies.

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  • SneakyPete
    08/17/2018
    ···

    🤔 NOVEMBER 6 RED or BLUE or NO WAVE 🌊 AT ALL 🤷🏼‍♂️ Is there going to be a BLUE 🌊 or RED 🌊 or NO 🌊 coming November 6? I’d believe that it is not going to be one for either Party as wave elections are usually considered to be the exception rather than the norm. A pick-up of 20 seats in the House has been used as a cut-off point by analysts such as Stuart Rothenberg and regardless what we are hearing from the Progressive Left, the Democrats will fail getting a 20+ seat pick-up. However, political scientist Dan Hopkins has argued that the term has little utility in understanding elections and that there is no clear cut-off point between a wave election and other elections. 8*17*18 ..... SneakyPete. SEE: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave_elections_in_the_United_States

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