MIAMI (CBSMiami) — There is a beach hazard statement in effect for parts of Southwest Florida due to a red tide, which is killing fish and marine life and making some beach-goers sick.
The National Weather Service issued the beach hazard statement through Monday and extends to coastal Charlotte, Lee and Sarasota counties.
A bloom of red tide algae has swept in from Naples to Tampa, killing marine life and tourism in its path. Respiratory irritation and murky clumps of red drift algae have been reported from Collier to Sarasota counties.
Thousands of fish, eels and turtles are dying, sometimes as far as the eye can see, in parts of southwest Florida. Just this week, one of several lifeless manatees was pulled from the water. The suspected culprit is the toxic algae bloom known as red tide.
Officials documented 287 sea turtle deaths in Gulf of Mexico waters coast since the toxic bloom started in October.
Ozzie Fisher has been a fishing guide in the area for more than 20 years and is already seeing cancellations.
“It really stinks,” he said. “Imagine if you paid $5,000 to come here on vacation and you tell your wife and your 3-year-old to go on the beach and breathe this in, you can’t do that. It’s bad.”
The Florida red tide organism, known as K. brevis, produces brevetoxins that can affect the central nervous system of fish and other vertebrates, causing these animals to die.
Wave action can break open K. brevis cells and release these toxins into the air, leading to respiratory irritation.
For people with severe or chronic respiratory conditions, such as emphysema or asthma, red tide can cause serious illness.
The algae and bacteria are usually found in pockets, but this year they have mushroomed to stretch over 150 miles. Warmer waters and runoff from lakes and streams can fuel the problem.
The red tide, which typically goes away in the spring, has persisted for nine months.
Conservationists like Heather Barron say the overall effect on fragile species like sea turtles, which have turned up sick or dead, can be long lasting.
“I’ve cried three times already today,” Barron said. “Imagining one day my three small children may grow up and these animals may not be here anymore.”
On Sanibel Island, cleanup crews have not been able to keep up with this putrid wave of dead sea life, and it extends for miles in either direction.
There is no telling how long this could last — the worst bloom lasted 17 months in 2006.
Click here for the red tide status page from the FWC.