The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced in a Tuesday news release that it had discovered "naturally occurring" red tide algae blooms in three counties near the state's west coast. And although red tide occurs annually in the Gulf of Mexico, reports indicate it's already begun to kill thousands of fish and drive away beach tourists.
"We come out here, the fish are dead and it stinks like heck," an unidentified visitor on Anna Maria Island told FOX 13. "I can't take that smell."
Florida's red tide is caused by Karenia brevis, a microorganism that in large concentrations make toxins that poison shellfish and make the air hard to breathe, according to the National Ocean Service. The color is -- you guessed it -- red.
Beachgoers with respiratory issues or sensitive noses may be affected. But the true losers of red tide are the fish -- thousands of grouper, pinfish, sea trout and snook have washed up dead on the shores so far, WTSP reported. The fish kills have been concentrated in Pinellas, Manatee and Sarasota counties, according to the wildlife commission.
"This is the worst I've ever seen," wildlife rescuer Justin Matthews told WWSB. "A lot of these birds eat the fish and it makes them incredibly sick."
For humans, the main risk associated with red tide is breathing in toxins that can cause throat and eye problems. People also need to watch after their dogs, taking care to clean them after they've been in the ocean, the Bradenton Herald reported.
Algae blooms cost the American economy more than $80 million every year in industries linked to tourism, seafood and health, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As for this outbreak, public works employee Juan Florensa told YourObserver.com he hopes the fish deaths end soon.
"We’re holding our breath here, pardon the pun," he added.