Many of Florida’s famous beaches were empty over the weekend. For the first time in decades, a red tide outbreak is plaguing both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts at once.
Red tide—a toxic algae bloom—can cause breathing problems in humans. It’s been blamed for tons and tons of dead fish on miles of beaches worldwide.
Florida’s Gulf Coast (western side of the state) has suffered with the algae outbreak all summer. But red tide showed up just last week on the Atlantic beaches (eastern side) of South Florida. State officials say a red tide bloom that began last fall now stretches roughly 135 miles along Florida’s southwest coast. The problem is affecting businesses, tourism, and vacations.
Lieutenant Matthew Sparling of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Ocean Rescue says, “People come here to be on the beaches, and they don’t want to be coming down here to be exposed to red tide or sewage spills or whatnot. “
In Florida’s Panhandle, crews of county jail inmates are cleaning up piles of dead fish killed by a red tide bloom near Panama City Beach.
The King Tides—the highest tides—hit South Florida in October and November. They could worsen the outbreak, as high levels of algae-laden seawater flow toward shore.
Scientist Vincent Lovko says the last time a red tide outbreak affected the Atlantic coast was in the mid-1990s.
Meanwhile, lifeguard Axel Decamillis sits in his truck wearing a respiratory mask on Miami’s Haulover Beach. “I’d rather be safe than sorry,” he says. “We call this area ground zero.”
(AP Photo: Dead fish float in the water near Canal Parkway in Mexico Beach, Florida.)