Experts will not know until next week whether Hurricane Michael, with its powerful winds, helped break up the toxic algae bloom that has been plaguing Florida’s coastline for the past year.
making some beaches less safe to visit and hurting tourism in the area. Those with chronic asthma or emphysema are at a greater risk.
Consuming filter-feeder mollusks such as oysters and clams from red tide water can lead to neurotoxic shellfish poisoning. While not lethal, NSP can cause diarrhea and discomfort for about three days, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Red tide can also be costly in economic terms as well. Currently, the algae cause about $82 million in economic losses to the seafood, restaurant, and tourism industries each year. Red tide reduces tourism, closes beaches and shellfish beds, and decreases the catch from both recreational and commercial fisheries, according to NOAA.
As of Tuesday red tide affected over a dozen counties in the state, stretching over 145 miles, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. High concentrations were found in Pinellas, Manatee, and Palm Beach counties, and offshore of Charlotte county. The less concentrated algae has been recorded in parts of Sarasota, Bay, St. Lucie, Martin and Palm Beach counties.
“I think that the wind disturbance will override the nutrients running to the coast,” Thomas said, reflecting the role Hurricane Michael can play.
Rob Young, Director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University, said that Hurricane Michael was pushing the red tide offshore as it was approaching. Hurricanes can also cool water, creating inhospitable environments for red tide. However, he said, “we sort of have to wait and see,” what the impact will be.
Keeley Belva, a NOAA spokeswoman, echoed this. She said, “It will likely be a week or so before we know more about the status.”
If Hurricane Michael is able to ameliorate the red tide in the Gulf of Mexico, there’s always a chance it could come back by way of natural causes.
“We can have more red tides in the future, but that will be because of natural occurrences,” Thomas said.