Red Tide Misery

Cayo Costa State Park, one of the barrier islands off the Southwest Florida Gulf Coast, is one of my favorite places.  Just north of it’s more famous neighbors, Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Cayo Costa is a state park reachable only by ferry or private boat. We’ve spent two weeks out there so far in 2013, but unfortunately our latest anchorage (2.8-9.2013) was not a good experience — red tide rising!

Here’s what the beach looked like a week ago….

Red tide is an intensified concentration of a microscopic algae, a natural phenomemon not caused by anything human.  Red tides occur from August through February, beginning in the Gulf of Mexico.  Currents and winds transport the algae blooms toward shore. The exact combination of factors that cause red tide remains a mystery, but some experts attribute high temperatures along with a lack of wind and rainfall.  No “cure” has been discovered, but scientists are working to control it.

The algae produces a toxin that affects the central nervous system of fish paralyzing them so they cannot breathe and die — washing up on Gulf beaches in multitudes if the red tide offshore is extensive — like apparently this year.  🙁

For Cayo Costa, a barrier island that state park officials are working hard to return to its natural state, Mother Nature is the cause as well as the cure.  A strong storm while we were anchored, combined with a strong west wind, blew dead fish ashore by droves.  Eventually high tides combined with winds from the north or south will cleanse the beach, but because the park is being returned to it’s natural state, there is no interference by park rangers or personnel.

Here’s the sad reality of what the beach looked like this week with red tide….

But for us new fishermen….

Is it OK to eat fish caught during a red tide?  I asked all the professional fishermen in our marina and they told us that it’s usually okay to eat fish, crabs and shrimp during a red tide because the toxin is not absorbed into the fleshy tissues, provided you only eat the fillet.   Never ever eat any fish that’s sick or dying!   The local fishermen also said that during a red tide, such as now, fish in general don’t bite and they don’t catch many, which limits the potential for anyone to get sick.  Do NOT eat mussels or oysters or other such shellfish caught locally during a red tide because they can transmit a toxin dangerous to humans.

But the most tragic loss of red tide this year …. I couldn’t walk the beach any more, we had to leave…. 🙁

How Does Red Tide Affect Humans (other than making me cry over the loss of the eagle ray)?

While doing a bit of research on my allergic reaction to red tide … According to American College of Chest Physicians (2007, January 8). ‘Red Tide Toxins’ Leave Beachgoers Breathless”:

In the normal population, inhaled aerosolized red tide toxins can lead to eye irritation, runny nose, nonproductive cough, and wheezing. However, these symptoms usually subside after leaving beach areas,” said study author Lora E. Fleming, MD, PhD, University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Miami, FL. “Our study shows that Florida red tide toxins may have a greater impact on patients with asthma, who experienced significant respiratory problems and decreased lung function after just one hour of beach exposure to the toxins.”

Luckily the symptoms usually subside after leaving the beach … unless you’re on a boat in a marina with the wind blowing in from offshore where the algae bloom/red tide resides!   They may be worse in coastal areas with active surf.

I hate red tide, I hate what it does to the fish and I hate how it makes me feel.  I don’t care if it’s natural or what, it’s a PITA!!!   Can you add more details or helpful hints?  Please leave comments and share!   THANKS!  Jan




  1. Aaron Connock says:

    Yes,the pics are disturbing. and sorry for your discomfort.. nice to see you CARE. my family and I are going to be camping at cayo Costa park on march 5.I can only hope it clears up by then..time will tell…

  2. It’s not entirely true to say that red tide blooms are natural. The extent and duration are certainly increased because of human interaction, ex… Nutrient loading from agriculture, both commercial and private; development along the coast brings with it the ‘unplanned release’ which is when municipalities release untreated sewage during extreme or not rain events, and these can be thousands of gallons; never mind the aging infrastructure ex old septic tanks…

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