Toxic red tide: Florida researchers investigate what’s making it so bad for so long

By James Rainey |

Red Tide, Dead Fish

Scientists are exploring whether agricultural pollution might be playing a role in Florida’s red tide, which is killing sea life and making people sick.

In declaring a state of emergency in seven counties where the ocean is contaminated by a toxic red tide, Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s office made two points this week: The state is supporting communities struggling with the scourge, and the siege of seafaring microorganisms is “naturally occurring.”

Indeed, scientists and historians note fish kills triggered by the infestations dating back as early as the 1500s. While scientists today acknowledge the natural roots of Florida’s red tides, they also are investigating the possibility that persistent blooms, like the one besetting the Gulf Coast this summer, might be getting a “booster shot” from man-made pollutants that spill into the ocean.

A scientist from Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) sampled coastal waters west of Fort Myers in recent days, searching for the type of nitrogen-rich pollution already blamed for fouling inland water, particularly in giant Lake Okeechobee.

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