A red tide algae bloom that has spread along the southwest Florida coast is killing 10 or more manatee a day.
The algae bloom occurs nearly annually along Florida's coast from Sarasota through the middle of Lee County. They are called red tide algae blooms because the algae colony makes the water appear red.
"Not everything about the red tide is understood," said AccuWeather Expert Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski. "The algae blooms sometimes show up when we have cold surges in the South during the late winter, early spring."
Kottlowski said the red tide seems to more prevalent when there are cold air intrusions in the Gulf of Mexico. "Three weeks ago, there was a prolonged cold snap. Shortly after that, the reports of a red tide and dead fish began."
Algae is a natural part of the ocean ecosystem, and many are not toxic. Most algae helps to feed aquatic species. However, the algae bloom killing Florida manatees is toxic.
"The algae can cause fish kills, kill manatee and even cause issues with the human respiratory system if the wind blows the algae toward shore," said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Kevin Baxter.
Prior to 2013, the most manatees killed in a year was 151. Already this year, 174 manatees have died from algae-related problems, said Baxter.
The algae becomes an issue when it settles on sea grass. Sea grass is the primary food source for the manatees. Once the algae is ingested, the manatees begin to have problems with their buoyancy. It may become difficult for them to lift their heads to get air.
"If someone sees a manatee acting in this manner, they can call us and we will come and rescue it," said Baxter. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has set up a manatee hotline for manatees who appear to be suffering from algae poisoning. Anyone witnessing a manatee who appears to be ill can call (888) 404-3922 to report it.
Baxter said that so far this year they have been able to save 12 manatees suffering from the effects of algae consumption. The rescued manatees are taken to The Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa for treatment.
By Vickie Frantz, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
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