Florida's red tide: Scientists seek solution to toxic algae crisis

Scientists are seeking a solution to the red tide crisis that has been devastating marine life on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

The naturally occurring toxic algae bloom, which was declared an emergency by Gov. Rick Scott on Monday, has littered beaches with dead sea life.

When he issued the emergency order, Scott also announced funding and resources to combat the crisis, including over $100,000 for Mote Marine Laboratory.

FLORIDA BEACHES LITTERED WITH DEAD SEA TURTLES; SCIENTISTS BLAME RED TIDE

The Sarasota-based lab has developed an ozone treatment system to remove the microscopic plantlike organisms that are responsible for the red tide.

“Mote’s ozone treatment system was developed, patented, and is currently used to remove Karenia brevis cells and toxins from seawater entering Mote Aquarium and Mote’s animal hospitals. Scientists are currently preforming a canal test in Boca Grande, involving two ozone systems,” the lab tweeted Tuesday.

Speaking to Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, Dr. Richard Pierce of Mote Marine Laboratory described this year’s red tide as a very serious problem. “It’s something that has happened before, but it’s something that we need to get a better handle on,” he said. “Now we’re starting to look more at what might be done about actually controlling it.”

“A red tide, or harmful algal bloom, is a higher-than-normal concentration of a microscopic alga (plantlike organism),” explains the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, in a statement. “In Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, the species that causes most red tides is Karenia brevis, often abbreviated as K. brevis. To distinguish K. brevis blooms from red tides caused by other species of algae, researchers in Florida call the former the ‘Florida red tide’.”

The area is no stranger to red tide events. “Red tides were documented in the southern Gulf of Mexico as far back as the 1700s and along Florida's Gulf coast in the 1840s,” explains the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “Fish kills near Tampa Bay were even mentioned in the records of Spanish explorers.”

RED TIDE CRISIS: THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE TOXIC ALGAE BLOOM ON FLORIDA'S GULF COAST

This summer’s red tide has already caused the deaths of hundreds of sea turtles, as well as large fish like goliath grouper and even manatees. In places like Longboat Key, more than 5 tons of dead fish have been removed from beaches.

This week, nine dead dolphins were found in Sarasota County. Marine biologists are investigating whether the deaths are related to red tide.

Red tides can also cause respiratory irritation for humans. “For people with severe or chronic respiratory conditions, such as emphysema or asthma, red tide can cause serious illness,” officials explain.

BLUE-GREEN TOXIC ALGAE INVADES FLORIDA RIVER

As Florida attempts to deal the red tide algae bloom on its Gulf Coast, a freshwater bloom on the other side of the state has caused blue-green toxic slime to appear in the St. Lucie River. A sample taken from the river on Aug. 2 contained high levels of the toxin microcystin, according to officials. The EPA notes that, while the liver is the primary target of microcystin, it is also a skin, eye and throat irritant.

Unlike the red tide, the bloom is not naturally occurring. Nutrient pollution from agricultural and urban runoff causes the majority of freshwater cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae blooms, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Heavy rains in May caused Lake Okeechobee to discharge water containing blue-green algae into rivers and canals. The bright green sludge oozed onto docks, dams and rivers.

Last month, Gov. Scott declared an emergency to combat algae blooms caused by Lake Okeechobee water discharges.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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