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How Will Hurricane Michael Affect Florida's Red Tide Outbreak?

NOAA scientists say the number of cases where red-tide blooms and hurricanes have occurred simultaneously is small. (Pixabay)
NOAA scientists say the number of cases where red-tide blooms and hurricanes have occurred simultaneously is small. (Pixabay)
October 10, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida's red-tide bloom continues to be a drag on tourism, causing fish kills and inducing respiratory problems for beachgoers - and it's uncertain whether Hurricane Michael will help or make the problem worse.

Researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have said no past hurricane has managed to break up a red-tide outbreak, but the cases where blooms and hurricanes occur at the same time are rare.

David Hastings, a marine and chemistry professor at Eckerd College, said one possibility is that the storm could push the blooms farther out to sea. However, he added, the hurricane also could feed the red tide and exacerbate the problem by bringing more nutrients to the surface.

"The heavy rains that are associated with with storms like this will drain farms, agricultural areas, septic tanks, and make more nutrients go into the water," he said.

In 2004 and 2005, four hurricanes clobbered the state, and scientists suspect they triggered one of the worst red-tide outbreaks in Florida history, killing fish and shutting down beaches for more than a year.

The Florida red-tide organism, Karenia brevis, produces potent neurotoxins called brevetoxins that can affect the central nervous systems of many animals, causing them to die. Hastings said these organisms will grow more readily in warmer waters, so the warming climate is a definite concern.

"We need to try to understand more carefully the relationship between what's going on in our coastal areas and climate change," he said.

Hastings said the current red-tide bloom is among the worst in a decade, partly because it has lasted so long. Normally, a red tide begins in late summer or early fall and dissipates on its own in winter, around February or March.

NOAA info on red tide is online at oceanservice.noaa.gov.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - FL