Toxic algae plagues Florida

LONGBOAT KEY, Fla. — Tons of dead fish. A smell so awful you gag with one inhale. Empty beaches, empty roads, empty restaurants.

A toxic algae bloom has overrun Florida’s southern Gulf Coast this summer, devastating sea life and driving people from the water.

“I’ve never seen it this bad,” said 31-year-old Heather Lamb of Venice. She’s a hairdresser and makeup artist who styled herself as a dead mermaid and posted photos on social media to raise awareness of the problem.

Red tide — a naturally occurring toxic algae bloom that can be harmful to people with respiratory problems — has spread throughout the Gulf of Mexico, drifting in the water since it began in October.

The algae turns the water toxic for marine life, and in recent weeks beachgoers have been horrified to find turtles, large fish like goliath grouper and even manatees wash up dead. This week, nine dead dolphins were found in Sarasota County, and marine biologists are investigating whether the deaths are related to red tide.

The Florida Wildlife Research Institute says the number of dead and stranded sea turtles is nearly three times higher than average. The institute estimates that 250 to 300 died from red tide poisoning.

In Bradenton Beach, the stench was impossible to ignore.

“I can’t describe the smell. It’s like unbelievable. It makes you throw up,” said Holmes Beach resident Alex Kuizon, who has lived in the area for decades. He held a handkerchief over his mouth and nose while talking to a reporter. Just a few feet away, hundreds of dead fish clogged a boat ramp.

Why this year’s red tide is so intense is up for debate. Some researchers have noticed aggressive blooms after hurricanes; Irma swept past Florida’s Gulf Coast in the summer of 2017.

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