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Florida’s Red Tide Threatening Water Sports Events, Killing Tourism

22 Aug, 2018

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

The tide is turning in parts of Florida, and that’s not a good thing – particularly not to planners of water-based sports events.

According to CNN, the state is dealing with a toxic algae problem on multiple fronts, with colorful monikers like "red tide" and "green slime." A marathon bloom on its west coast is leaving dead fish, sea turtles, manatees and even a whale shark in its path. Experts say it poses a risk to people, as well, who develop infections as a result.

This prompted Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency on Monday for several counties dealing with the nine-month-old red tide algae bloom which has hurt Florida’s economy. It is the second emergency order issued by Scott this summer. The Sunshine State has not seen a bloom of this magnitude in more than a decade.

"I am issuing an emergency declaration to provide significant funding and resources to the communities experiencing red tide, so we can combat its terrible impacts," Scott said in a news release.

Following Scott's emergency order, VISIT FLORIDA launched two programs to assist local tourism development boards in counties adversely affected by naturally occurring red tide, which include Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota, Manatee, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. The Tourism Recovery Grant Program for Red Tide and Red Tide Recovery Marketing Program are designed to assist each affected county with marketing their destination once red tide has subsided.  

Although red tides happen around the world, this one is caused by an organism almost exclusively found in the Gulf of Mexico: a single-celled organism called Karenia brevis.

K. brevis produces toxins that cause "neurotoxic shellfish poisoning," according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Humans then eat the contaminated shellfish and become sick. Typical symptoms include numbness, tingling, loss of coordination, vomiting and diarrhea, according to the CDC. Symptoms typically disappear within a few days, but they can last much longer. Airborne bacteria can infect people and cause respiratory infections.

And while the health impact is priority one, ancillary damage is being done to the tourism – and sports tourism – industry. Fox News noted the red tide has created $82 million in economic losses to the seafood, restaurant and tourism industries each year in the U.S., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Miami Herald documented the impact of the red tide on the charter fishing industry in Southwest Florida, noting that anglers will pay $800 a day to battle tarpon – ferocious fighters who make for a great fishing experience. This year, however, tarpon that normally flee toxic tides are turning up dead, along with manatees, sea turtles, snook, and other large marine life. It’s killing tourism as much as it’s killing fish. Similarly, no swimmer wants to venture into affected waters – or any waters they think might be affected, even if they’re far outside of the danger zone.

The current red tide is affecting communities from Naples in the south to Anna Marie Island in the north, a stretch of about 150 miles, Weather.com reported. And for those hitting the beach for fishing or any water sports, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Research Institute provides updated reports on red tide conditions here.

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