Red tide which has emerged in the Gulf of Mexico is currently posing a significant danger to residents of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, authorities have recently announced.
The phenomenon commonly known as “red tide” refers to excessive concentrations of dinoflagellate algae in the water. This type of marine phytoplankton favors higher levels of temperature, because they offer algae the ideal conditions for blooming much faster.
Since these harmful plantlike organisms are reliant on carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions have been soaring lately, populations have been thriving, also aided by coastal upwelling which displaces large amounts of nutrients from the bottom of the ocean, taking them to the surface.
Other factors that have contributed to this unprecedented level of algae bloom were the rise in sea levels, coupled with disruptions in rainfall patterns.
According to LaDon Swann, director of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium and Auburn University Marine Programs, never before has the red tide been so severe and extensive as it is at the moment.
This opinion is also shared by other experts at the University of South Mississippi and at the state’s Department of Marine Resources, who have declared that this could be the most destructive phenomenon of this kind reported north of the Gulf of Mexico.
As Swann explained, more than a month has passed since an aggressive accumulation of deadly algae has taken over Mobile, the only saltwater port in Alabama. Ever since the red tide made its presence felt, local authorities ordered the shutdown of the state’s oyster beds and beaches.
Moreover, the same measure prompted by the same destructive phenomenon was also taken by officials at the Department of Marine Resources and the Department of Environmental Quality across the state of Mississippi, extensive closures being introduced starting from Friday, December 11.
Apparently, the concentration of these microorganisms in the water must be of around 5,000 algal cells per liter in order to cause such orders to be issued, whereas now toxic bloom density has reached as much as 1 million cells per liter in certain regions, with devastating consequences.
For example, countless dead fish and other aquatic creatures are now strewn all over the surface of Biloxi Beach, having been poisoned by algae known as Karenia brevis.
In addition, on the southeastern coastline of Louisiana, authorities had no choice but to prohibit access to oyster harvesting spots.
Similarly, an alert has also been issued for the local population of these affected areas. People have been warned that it would be best to stay away from the beach or other coastal regions, no matter how pleasant the weather might seem.
Aside from the fact that red tide severely damages the central nervous system of numerous organisms, leading to high mortality among fish, seabirds, shellfish and marine mammals, it’s also extremely hazardous to humans as well.
Ingesting contaminated food or breathing in toxins released by Karenia brevis algae colonies can lead to nausea, vomiting, teary and burning eyes, skin irritation, and respiratory issues (coughing, sneezing, troubled breathing).
Exposure to such pollutants can even be fatal to those suffering from asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Given these high risks associated with red tide, representatives of the Department of Marine Resources and Environmental Quality have announced that beach closures and oyster reef shutdowns will be maintained until the phenomenon subsides, as temperatures drop.
The best case scenario, presented by scientists at NASA’s Stennis Space Center is that the red tide will persist until Tuesday, but other experts believe the situation will remain perilous for at least another month.
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