Friday, January 8, 2016

Red Tide

Portuguese Man of War
After 18 hours of driving over two days, our first order of business upon arriving at our beach side rental is to take a walk on the beach and stretch our legs. We started out and ten minutes later we turned back because we were all having trouble seeing and breathing. The wind was brisk and large clouds of sea spray could be seen blowing inland so we assumed that was causing our respiratory woes and tried again the next day. Although we spent an hour walking, we still had itchy sore throats and stinging watery eyes. The wind was still there though not as brisk so it got the blame. This went on all week and though not pleasant, it generally cleared up as soon as we went back inside so we forced ourselves to walk anyway. We still all had sore throats especially during the nights but nothing we couldn't handle.

Finally on our final day there, we were talking with some people who let us know the dirty little secret that they keep from us tourists. There was a red tide parked offshore due to the unseasonably warm waters. It is essentially an algae bloom that releases particulates into the air and causes all the respiratory symptoms we were experiencing. It was also killing large numbers of fish and other creatures that were washing ashore. I wondered what it was doing to our health but apparently long term affects are not really known. Seeing that my grandfather has bad respiratory ailments already, it was a good thing he didn't make it on this trip or it might just have been his final trip.

On our third or fourth day into our vacation, our morning stumbles hacking and rubbing our eyes along the beach saw hundreds of these blue 'jellyfish-like' things washed ashore. I'm glad I didn't poke one because later when our eyes had cleared up enough inside to do an internet search, I found out they were Portuguese Man of War. I had never seen one up close and on that day, I got to see more than I ever care to see again. We also saw several dead starfish, birds and other fish. The fish below was a more colorful version which I have never seen before and don't know the identification but if I had to guess, I would say some sort of puffer fish.

I'm back home now and the sore throat seems to have finally gone away so I hope the effects of the red tide are now gone for good with no lasting side effects. Now that I know about it, I have found lots of literature online of Florida's efforts to keep it under wraps so not to damage their tourism trade. I'm guessing as global warming heats our planet up, with will be harder to do so.


Kelly said...

How unpleasant! I'm assuming it was like a severe allergy? And how sad for all the sea life it was killing.

I've never seen a Man O'War outside of an aquarium. I remember reading about them in a Reader's Digest article when I was a little girl and being so fascinated!

sage said...

I never heard of a red tide affecting breathing, but it does do a number on fish and shellfish are off limits. Those man-of-wars are beautiful in the water, but also deadly, I've heard of horror stories of them getting caught up in the surf with a swimmer.

Vince said...

I've heard of the blooms causing problems with sea life. And In fresh water reservoirs during the summer the bloom can remove O2 and kill fish that way.
But I seem to remember reading about a red tide in the South China Sea inthe New Scientist a few years back. Something to do with cyanide if I remember rightly.

Leigh said...

Those finds on the beach are sad, but not surprising. Shame on Florida for trying to cover it up. Do they think having a reputation as a bunch of liars will help their cause. But, I suppose it's a sign of the times.

Ed said...

Kelly - It was like a really bad allergy. After an hour of walking, my breathing would be labored (much more than normal) and I would have to use my hand to keep at least one of my eyes open to see my way. Otherwise, they would be tearing and stinging so bad that they would be closed.

Sage - They told us that eating sea life affected by the red tide is a definite no no and that you got much more than irritations when doing so. Most said severe abdominal problems and sometimes death if enough was ingested. We didn't go deep sea fishing this time anyway so we didn't have to worry about that.

Vince - I've been so busy I haven't had much time to research red tide much but I do seem to have heard other stories about it in the past. However living 1000 miles from any saltwater body, I tend to not listen very well about them since they don't effect me. That will change now that I know first hand what they were talking about.

Leigh - I should caution that the Florida cover-up is all third hand news but I guess certainly believable. I haven't seen or read any official investigations stating that fact. I suspect all states are guilty of not publicizing their less than desirable secrets to visitors, my own included, so I won't hold it against them.