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Red tide is a harmful algal bloom that can sicken or even kill local wildlife. It also causes respiratory issues in humans and other animals. Wochit

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About 80 members of the Marco Island Sail & Power Squadron (MISPS) attended the group's monthly dinner meeting at the Marco Island Yacht Club on March 13. The guest speaker was Rhonda Watkins, principal environmental specialist for Collier County, who spoke to the squadron members about her responsibilities of monitoring and assessing water quality, and in particular the very topical issue of red tide.

Although red tide is a natural phenomenon that was first noticed in 1844, the recent blooms have caused more interest and concern. Watkins explained that it must serve some environmental purpose – similar to fires in the Everglades which control growth – and is likely affected by salinity, temperature, wind, currents, other algae and nutrients in the Gulf.

More: Fish kills reported at Bonita, Marco Island beaches afflicted by red tide

More: Harmful red tide bloom spreads along Southwest Florida coast

More: FWC: Florida red tide organism persists in Southwest Florida

She further explained that red tide starts 40 to 50 miles out in the Gulf and is brought into the shore areas by currents and wind. Breathing in the spray may cause respiratory issues for some people. Swimming in red tide waters may cause skin irritation and burning eyes. Fish kills of bottom feeders like catfish, mullet and baitfish occur as the toxin paralyzes the fish, making it impossible for them to breathe. Larger sea creatures are also affected and typically suffer respiratory distress. Manatees, dolphins, sea turtles and birds are all susceptible to distress and death from red tide.

Sampling for red tide has been done since 1995, and since 2005 there have been fixed stations to monitor the development and spread of red tide. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides satellite images to measure chlorophyll levels in order to determine the development of red tide blooms.

To find out where the red tide is in your area, call the Red Tide Hotline at 239-252-2591. For more information on red tide, visit myfwc.com/REDTIDESTATUS or watch streaming videos online at Start1.com.

Other helpful websites include Mote Marine Laboratory (Mote.org) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC.gov)

About MISPS

MISPS is an all-volunteer group devoted to boating safety through education and civic involvement. Please feel free to join us at our monthly social hour the fourth Tuesday of the month at 5 p.m. at CJ’s on the Bay to learn more.

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