Red Algae Bloom Kills Manatees, Sickens Tourists

Something is blooming off the west coast of Florida this spring, but it isn’t pretty: a tide of toxic red algae is killing manatees and making tourists sick.

Manatees, or sea cows, are already a dying breed. But the large concentration of aquatic microorganisms has killed 241 of Florida’s roughly 5,000 manatees, a toll that the state Fish and Wildlife Research Institute says is certain to rise. Most manatee deaths occurred along the lower west coast of Florida near Fort Myers, where an algae bloom has been especially severe this year.

So what does the bloom mean for travelers? People have regularly had respiratory problems after inhaling brevetoxins while strolling on beaches near red tides, and can also become ill after eating seafood that have absorbed the toxins, including oysters and clams. For now, be wary of waters with a deep reddish-brown hue, especially off the Gulf of Mexico.

[Photo credit: U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, Wikimedia Commons]