Cases of Red Tide in Florida Worsen

The Red Tide in Florida is a (somewhat) naturally occurring phenomenon along Florida’s Gulf Coast. The cause of Red Tide is a microscopic life form called, Karenia Brevis. It is a single-celled algae that survives on photosynthesis. Its naturally thriving nature, along with human negligence, has allowed it to compromise the survival of competing organisms, resulting in an overgrowth that is commonly referred to as Red Tide.

Within its depths, the Gulf Coast is home to an abundance of bacteria and algae of all kinds. The existence of Karenia Brevis is not particularly hazardous in reasonable doses. However, it can be detrimental to the ecosystem when excessive growth occurs. As is the case with any ecosystem, an imbalance can bring severe consequences.

The most troubling aspect of the Red Tide is its spread from the coastal communities along Florida’s Gulf Coast shores into the Atlantic Ocean. As acknowledged by the state office of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), complaints from beachgoers amount to extreme eye and throat irritation. Even more troublesome is the fact that the Red Tide in Florida can be deadly to marine life, as well as the ecosystem as a whole.


K. Brevis to Blame for Florida’s Harmful Algae Bloom

Red Tide does not exclusively occur along the Florida Gulf Coast, but it is has developed into a concerning regional problem. As mentioned before, the troublesome case of Florida’s algae problem is a direct result of the overgrowth of Karenia Brevis. This single cell microorganism classifies as a phytoplankton as well as algae.

As the term “Red Tide” suggests, K. Brevis has a rust-colored pigment. However, waters affected by the presence of K. Brevis tend to have more of a brownish-yellow tinge to them. For this reason, a more accurate description of the tidal problems occurring along Florida’s coastlines would be, “harmful algae bloom”.

These algae blooms occur anywhere from 10 – 40 miles offshore. However, environmental factors such as waves, currents, and hurricanes contribute to their widespread presence. These natural environmental forces carry the harmful algae bloom to the Gulf of Mexico, Straits of Florida, and the Atlantic Seaboard.


What is Causing Red Tide in Florida?

Most algae blooms are completely natural and of little concern. So a practical question to ask regarding the harmful algae blooms that Florida residents are finding on their shores would be: What is causing the harmful algae blooms?

In the case of Florida’s Red Tide problem, the answer is simultaneously simple and layered. The simple fact is that naturally occurring environmental conditions play a part in the number of harmful algae present in sea waters. When there is an ample supply of nutrients, or in some cases pollutants, the algae will feed and reproduce accordingly.

It all comes down to the substances (or resources) found in the water that will determine what life will thrive in a particular ecosystem. In the case of K. Brevis, the warm Gulf Coast waters, in conjunction with the abundance of carbon dioxide, provides an ideal set of conditions for K. Brevis to reproduce and survive in abundance.

There are also non-natural factors that are contributing to the overgrowth of K. Brevis in the along Florida’s coastline. Essentially, the Red Tide is a result of K. Brevis feeding off of other algae blooms whose nutrition happens to be fertilizer runoff that makes its way into the ocean. This chain reaction is largely caused by a negligent mishandling by Florida’s wastewater industry, particularly in regard to the Everglades.


Why is Red Slime Algae Different From Other Algae?

There is one very basic difference between red slime algae and the other less irritating blue-green algae. Even though they are both photosynthetic microbes that only live in water, blue-green algae are actually a form of cyanobacteria. There are some kinds of cyanobacteria that live oceans, but large amounts of these microbes are usually seen in rivers and lakes where levels of salt are low.

Harmful algae blooms fall into the category of dinoflagellate, which can also be seen rivers, lakes, and oceans. However, the level of algae present enough to cause Red Tide only occurs in saltwater. This crucial fact provides a key starting pointing point in the study and management of recurrent bloom cycles. To put things simply, red slime algae does not happen in fresh waters.


What to do About the Florida Algae Crisis

The simple fact is that harmful algae blooms are largely unpredictable. But, that does not mean responsible societies are powerless in their adaptation to the phenomenon. For one, there are preventive and preemptive steps to take lessen the harm induced by Red Tide. Tracking the amount of rainfall during the spring and effectively monitoring the number of chemicals used for agriculture can significantly minimize the overgrowth of harmful algae blooms.

Another crucial maneuver to execute in the prevention of Red Tide is waste control. A large propellor of the K. Brevis overgrowth stems from the mismanagement of wastewater in the national parks and swamps that encompass the Everglades. All water eventually makes its way to the ocean. It must be monitored and kept clean. Implementing more effective wastewater monitoring solutions could have a profound impact on Florida’s Red Tide problem.

A cloud-based SCADA solution would enable treatment plant operators to effectively monitor equipment functionality and chemical levels prevalent in the water. Additionally, the system would sound alarms to alert decision makers when problems occur. A robust monitoring system would help operators closely monitor the situation, and provide useful insight on how to proceed.

These efforts would not only complement existing agricultural standards, but they would also help to reduce levels of phosphorus and nitrogen from agricultural runoff on a statewide level. When all these steps come together, the Florida algae crisis will shrink down to size and become nothing more than a harmless, natural occurrence. The situation is not so out-of-hand for the shores of Florida that effective improvements can’t be made in the foreseeable future.