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What Travelers Need To Know About The Harmful Red Tide In Florida

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The busy spring break season in Florida is ramping up, but travelers may have their vacation impacted by the harmful red tide phenomenon that is currently affecting many beaches.

Red tide is a natural phenomenon caused by toxic algae that poses a risk to humans and animals.

Here's everything you need to know about the current red tide situation in Florida:

Red Tide Florida

What Is Red Tide?

Red tide is a toxic sea algae formally known as the single-cell Karenia brevis algae.

Unlike the annoying brown sargassum seaweed that is known to pollute beaches in the Mexican Caribbean, red tide is not only inconvenient but also potentially dangerous.

It can cause death and paralysis in marine life, and when humans inhale the toxin from the red tide, it can cause coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and throat irritation.

Red tide gets its name from the ruddy color of the algae, which can make the otherwise clear waters off the coast of Florida take on a murky tint.

Red Tide Conditions Sign

Where Does Red Tide Occur?

Red tide has been observed along the Gulf of Mexico since the 1840s.

It's a naturally occurring phenomenon, and unfortunately, there are no prevention or mitigation methods that are currently known in order to prevent it.

While red tide can occur anywhere along the Gulf Coast of Florida, it is currently impacting the beaches of Southwest Florida the most severely.

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Dead Fish Red Tide

Is Red Tide Dangerous?

Red tide is extremely dangerous to marine life, and it has been causing massive quantities of dead fish to wash up on the shores of many South Florida beaches. It can also cause death or paralysis in sea birds.

For humans, red tide can cause a slew of health problems.

Inhaling the toxin released by the algae causes respiratory illness symptoms including:

  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Sneezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Eye, skin, and throat irritation
  • Asthma attacks
Dead Fish Dumpster Sign

People who have asthma or other respiratory conditions are particularly susceptible to the effects of inhaling the toxins from red tide.

Where Is Currently Affected By Red Tide?

Right now, there are many areas along the Southwest Florida coast that are impacted by red tide.

The worst concentration is located from Tampa down to Naples. According to scientists at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the algae has been detected at concentrations greater than 100,000 cells per liter in samples from the following counties in Southwest Florida:

Nature Tampa Bay Area, Florida
  • Pinellas
  • Manatee
  • Sarasota
  • Charlotte
  • Lee
  • Collier
  • Monroe

If you are planning to travel to any of these areas in the coming days or weeks, some beaches may be affected by red tide.

What Can You Do About Red Tide?

Red tide normally clears up on its own, but this year levels have remained higher than normal.

It also usually occurs the worst during the later summer and fall (August to December) and is not typically an issue during the spring.

Walkway to the white sand beach and lifeguard station at Siesta Key Beach near Sarasota, Florida

However, this year is different and more red tide than usual has been detected along the beaches of Southwest Florida.

If you are traveling to other parts of Florida (such as the Florida Panhandle or the Atlantic Coast) then you do not need to worry about red tide.

But if you'll be in Southwest Florida, you can monitor the red tide status from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, which is regularly updated.

beach with a boat next to it

Avoid beaches with a high warning level, because prolonged exposure to the red tide toxins may cause symptoms of respiratory illness.

Some beaches within close proximity to one another have very different red tide levels, so it's worth driving to a nearby beach to enjoy the cleaner waters.

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