When the governor of Florida declares the Sunshine State to be in a state of emergency due to a red tide bloom, it’s time to take the situation seriously. Still, boaters need not despair. Yes, the Florida red tide bloom is particularly acute this summer season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that voyages need to be postponed. With some foresight and creative navigation, a great day out on the water can be had by all.
Here’s what Florida boaters should know about red tide before dropping anchor:
Don’t stumble upon red tide by accident.
Consult an updated map of current conditions before charting a course. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission makes it easy to see where red tide blooms are located. View in a glance where the bloom is heaviest and avoid those areas. Visit their page for up-to-date information.
Respect the severity of this summer’s bloom.
Even the best Florida boat insurance can’t protect your voyagers from K. Brevis, the single-celled organism that triggers red tide and harms sea life and humans. The algae produces a neurotoxin that, in large quantities, triggers ‘fish kills’ by depriving the water of necessary oxygen. Wherever present, these toxins pose a risk of respiratory distress to humans.
Swim somewhere else.
Sure, you can cannonball into the Bay during a red tide bloom – if you don’t mind skin irritation, enveloping yourself in murky redness and inhaling an unsettlingly sharp scent. Red tide can also kill fish. Swimming around with dead fish does not sound like an ideal boating day. Though it’s relatively safe to swim in these conditions, it’s better to find a different launching spot.
Say ‘No’ to shellfish caught in the bloom zone.
The neurotoxin they absorb isn’t detectable by taste or sight. Ingest it and you’re likely in for three days or more of severe discomfort. No coconut-crusted shrimp is worth the risk. Commercially caught fish and shellfish are tested for the toxin and are thus safe to consume.
Leave your pup at home.
If there’s any chance of encountering red tide during your voyage, leave the dog at home. Dogs often lick their fur; if the neurotoxin is present, it can sicken them.
Consider a trip to a freshwater lake or river.
You won’t find K. Brevis there. Other bacteria may thrive in these locations, but the algae that result in red tide is not one of them.
No one can predict how long this current Florida red tide bloom will continue. Red tide has been reported to last from a few weeks to a full year. With some preparation, though, Florida boating needn’t come to a standstill.