Beach at sunset in Indian River County

Red Tide Alert for Indian River County

By Christine Kelly-Begazo, Indian River County Agriculture Extension Agent and Josh Kutyna, Extension office Program Assistant

Microscopic picture of Karenia brevis, the algae causing most red tides

Karenia brevis, the algae causing most red tides

With the exception of Round Island Beach Park, all beach access points have been closed in Indian River County due to the presence of Red Tide as confirmed by the Florida State Department of Health.

So welcome to Red Tide 101! The toxic menace is upon us, but before we bust out our hazard suits and gas masks let’s hunker down with some fruitful facts about this malevolent organism. First of all, what is it? We call it Red Tide, but the microorganism behind it is called Karenia brevis (a type of algae). Red Tide occurs when this plant-like microorganism experiences a bloom, which happens in mostly marine and estuary environments. Ocean currents then carry the algae bloom great distances, like an aqua expressway. Of course it all depends on varying wind-speeds and directions, but this can happen exceptionally fast (sometimes overnight).

Dead Fish on Indian River County beach

Dead Fish on Indian River County beach – photo & top feature photo by Julia Krochmalny

This particular species of algae IS toxic. The toxin that it produces can kill fish and cause respiratory issues in humans (by breathing in Red Tide aerosols), along with Neuro-toxic Shellfish Poisoning  if any contaminated shellfish have been consumed. Eating seafood from any commercial retailer is fine, as their products are monitored to be safe to eat. So what about going for a swim? Well, while swimming in Red Tide infested waters won’t kill you, it’s not a smart thing to do. You’ll likely develop skin irritation and burning eyes quickly, and don’t forget, chronic illnesses are still being researched that are associated with Red Tide exposure, so why risk it? The beaches are shut down for a reason! Be smart, be safe.

Some safe practices: 

  • Anyone with respiratory issues should stay away from the beaches for at least the next 2-10 days.
  • Throat irritation/ eye irritation/ coughing is a sign of direct Red Tide exposure. Symptoms will usually go away if you retreat indoors into air conditioning. Roll windows up when driving and use A/C or heat. If symptoms persist, seek immediate medical attention.
  • Be aware that high wind and tides can spread Red Tide much more quickly, and further inland.
  • DO NOT eat dead fish or any wild caught fish from this area until the Red Tide passes.
  • DO NOT harvest or eat any shellfish during this time. Shellfish filter the water for their food source, which allows the Red Tide toxin to build up in large concentrations within their bodies. Once consumed, this can cause Neuro-toxic Shellfish Poisoning in humans.
Seagull on the beach with seaweed in its beak

Seagull with seaweed. UF/IFAS Photo: Josh Wickham.

Android/ Apple Red Tide App: Red Tide status information can be reported and found using the “Mote CSIC” app. Provides real-time reports on locations and allows users to report blooms, health conditions and fish kills.

To Report a Health Issue: Call the Poison Control Hotline at 1-800-222-1222

Fact sheet from Florida Fish & WildlifeRed-Tide

For more information, go to the Indian River County website at: http://www.ircgov.com/