A type of potentially toxic algae known as "red tide" is blanketing an area roughly the size of Connecticut in the northeastern part of the Gulf of Mexico.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released a report on July 25, 2014, confirming a large-scale fish kill in the area. Since then, more fish have died as a result of the toxic, but naturally occurring, algae, formally called Karenia brevis.
Spokesperson for the FWC Brandon Basino said there are unconfirmed civilian reports of thousands of dead fish and that the research team is working in the area to verify.
Surface water temperatures have been warmer in the area over the past week, according to AccuWeather.com Expert Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski, which is a contributing factor to the outbreak.
Still, red tides are not uncommon for this time of year, according to Basino.
"However, what's unique about this one is that it's the largest bloom associated with a fish kill since 2006," he said.
The bloom is roughly 40 miles offshore between Dixie and Pasco counties and moving southward.
"It's moving a little quicker than we thought," Basino said.
Given the nickname 'red tide' due to the red hue some blooms can give to the water, the harmful algae blooms can cause health concerns for humans. Some blooms will not create hazardous swimming conditions, but severe cases can create havoc.
Respiratory irritation in humans can occur when a bloom of the red tide organism is present along the coast and winds blow the aerosol it produces on shore, according to the National Weather Service.
Symptoms associated with a red tide are typically temporary and can include coughing, sneezing and itching, tearing eyes. Symptoms may be worse in those who suffer from asthma, emphysema or other chronic respiratory disorders.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Monday, July 28, that the current bloom is not expected to cause respiratory irritation along southwestern Florida beaches through Monday, Aug. 4. However, if the bloom moves towards the coastline, beachgoers should be aware of potential risks.
Basino suggested that those hoping to hit the beach at an impacted area should listen to warnings from county health departments and use caution.