By Sean Jackson
For years there has been a scourge plaguing the coastline of the United States, specifically an algae bloom known as Karenia brevis, more commonly referred to as the ‘red tide’. The red tide has a large scope, going as far down as Florida, to as far north as Maine and British Columbia.
While the vernacular ‘red tide’ has been a common phrase used to describe the algae that turns coastal waters a blood-red color, there are misconceptions surrounding what the invasive flora does, as well as how it is harmful to the marine ecosystems that it cohabitates in.
In the ocean there is an innumerable amount of algae, microscopic to the naked eye. While algae is an essential component to ensuring that ocean ecosystems stay alive, when algae is supplied excess nutrients through photosynthesis they can multiply at an unprecedented rate. The excess helps the formation of a large mass of algae that smothers nearby ocean life – the ‘red tide’.
The algae is harmful to humans as well, creating a toxic byproduct known as harmful algal blooms, or HABs. HABs are formed from the excess nutrients such as nutrient rich soil runoff from forest and grasslands downriver, fertilizers and excrements from livestock, or coastal erosion.
Historically ‘red tide’ has been deadly, with larger sea mammals succumbing from the ingestion and inhalation of toxic fumes. From 1987 to 1988 the ‘red tide’ claimed the lives of more than 740 bottlenose dolphins, who died after ingesting contaminated fish. More recently in 1996 it was recorded that the bloom killed 149 manatees that washed up on the coastline of Florida.
The red tide does not just create toxic seas, it also creates what is known as ‘dead zones’, a phenomenon where when algae die the microbes that begin feeding on them consume much of the oxygen in the ocean. The result is that there is little oxygen left for fish and other creatures that breath underwater which leads to their deaths en masse.
President Trump addressed red tide as a part of his environmental agenda, noting that the algae is, “a big problem” causing “tremendous havoc”. The president is focusing in on coastal fisheries in the state of Florida who have been affected by the algae blooms extensively due.
President Trump has allocated $100 million towards stemming the issue. Most recently the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, said that this past month has been especially deadly, citing that 174 dolphins have been killed off in the past month alone.
This most recent outbreak of red tide is said by experts to be tied directly to higher surface water temperatures and ocean acidification. Michael Crosby, CEO of the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, as well as a former chief scientist for the NOAA stated that funding for the project to stem the destructive effects of the red tide will most likely come in the form of funding the agency to save the coral reef.
In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Crosby stated, “I have high confidence that the NOAA is going to take a significant level of ownership in not just studying, but helping to get the funds out the door to launch whole new initiatives that focus on coral disease, and response restoration initiatives.”
Coral reefs, and ensuring that the coastal environment is kept well intact brings approximately $3.4 billion dollars in economic value to the United States, including tourism, protecting individuals from natural disasters, as well as commercial fisheries.