Red Tide Rising

Florida is experiencing its worst outbreak of red tide in 30 years.

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A pile of fish killed by red tide rots on a beach in Florida
Photo: Chip Litherland

In Florida, red-tide season generally begins in September and lasts two to six months. It's different this year. Signs of the alga, which contain a neurotoxin that attacks the central nervous systems of marine life, eventually causing death, first appeared last January. Now, with no foreseeable sign of a letup, Florida is going through its worst outbreak in 30 years.

"We're losing snook, trout, redfish and tarpon," said Jeff Hagaman, a captain out of Tampa Bay. And the losses haven't been limited to inshore species. Some guides have spotted fish killed by red tide as far as 45 miles offshore.

"I've been seeing grouper and blackfin tuna floating 30 miles offshore," said Captain Troy Sapp of Tarpon Springs.

This year's overactive hurricane season may have prolonged the outbreak, but scientists would not speculate as to how long it will last.

"We don't know what triggers red tide," said a spokesman for the Florida Fish & Wildlife Research Institute. "Some last 18 months, others are over in two weeks."
-Joe Cermele