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Deadly red tide feared to return after Hurricane Ian

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Many Floridians remember mounds of dead fish lining beaches and signs warning swimmers to stay out of the water thanks to an outbreak of red tide that lasted two years after Hurricane Irma. Now an environmental engineer fears a repeat after Hurricane Ian.

“Every time we get a regular storm, we have all this nutrient load from fertilizers or herbicides or sewage overflows,” said Tracy Fanara, environmental engineer and author of the Red Tides research, to FOX Weather on Monday. “Now that was the next level.”

WHAT IS A RED TIDE?

Red tide is a naturally occurring harmful algal bloom. Algae, still in the water, eat up the newly found nutrients and bloom uncontrollably. The flowers produce toxins that kill fish, crustaceans, birds and mammals. Algae and toxins can irritate people’s skin, eyes and respiratory tract, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Humans can get sick from eating fish or shellfish in red tide areas, Fanara told FOX Weather last fall.

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“So with Hurricane Ian, we have all of these chemicals. We have submerged cars, we have so much more bacteria because not only have we had sewage overflows, we’ve had pipe bursts. We have people who can’t flush the toilet because the water table is so high, so they use the outside as a toilet,” Fanara explained of the effects of Hurricane Ian on the overfeeding of children. nutrients available to algae.” So we have all these bacteria entering our coastal waters. And that’s our main concern right now is the bacteria levels, the pathogen levels.”

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And it’s not just the Gulf Coast that is inundated with nutrient-rich floodwaters. More than 7 million gallons of sewage leaked through manhole covers, flooding streets in Brevard County and then into the Indian River Lagoon, FOX 35 Orlando reported.

“When I look at it now, I just see it being used as a toilet,” environmentalist Estelle Bailey told FOX 35 Orlando.

Photos of astronaut Bob “Farmer” Hines aboard the International Space Station showed massive amounts of dirt and silt dumped into the Gulf of Mexico days after Ian’s impact.

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The water and dirt are full of decaying felled trees, fertilizers from farms and pollutants.

“This photo shows how the Florida Peninsula is losing all the water that Hurricane Ian dumped on it,” Hines tweetedadding that the photo was taken two days after Ian landed.

Upwelling, a possible source of red tide

The Tampa Bay area also experienced reverse storm surge, much like during Irma. When Ian made landfall, his winds blew water from the Gulf of Tampa Bay. Residents were actually able to go out into the bay.

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The same reverse thrust occurred during Hurricane Irma in 2017. Meteorologist Ian Oliver referred to the event as “Irma 2.0” when Ian landed.

Fanara said the reverse thrust could have resulted in upwelling. Deeper, colder, nutrient-rich water from far below could have flowed to the surface.

“The best guess we have is that these blooms are offshore at the bottom of the ocean. Now, with the upwelling we’ve seen from the water pushing off Tampa Bay, it looks a lot like the Hurricane Irma, which we know triggered an upwelling event.”

The massive red tide bloom in Florida from late 2017 to early 2019 killed nearly 600 sea turtles, more than 200 manatees and more than 204 dolphins, according to a report from the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium.

The bloom has also hurt tourism by driving visitors away from the beach and reducing the output of the local fishing industry.

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Fanara and her colleagues will continue to monitor Florida water for red tide. At the same time, the Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative is in its third year of discovering strategies and technologies to reduce the volume and impact of blooms.

Other companies seek to control algae and ozone to restore areas where the red tide has depleted the water of oxygen or dead zones.