red tide algae bloom on the west side of Sanibel Island

Red Tide Is Devastating Florida's Sea Life. Are Humans to Blame?

"Anything that can leave has, and anything that couldn't leave has died."

Roughly 20 million algal cells color this swath of red that recently lingered off of Florida’s southwest coast. The red tide began in October 2017, and there are no signs that the toxic plume will lift anytime soon.
Photograph by Ben Depp

The first thing you notice is the smell. It’s not a scent, exactly, but a tingling in the nose that quickly spreads to the throat and burns the lungs. But then you see the carcasses.

Thousands of sea creatures now litter many of southern Florida’s typically picturesque beaches. Most are fish—mullet fish, catfish, pufferfish, snook, trout, grunt, and even the massive goliath grouper. But other creatures are also washing ashore—crabs, eels, manatees, dolphins, turtles, and more. It's a wildlife massacre of massive proportions. And the cause of both the deaths and toxic, stinging fumes is a bloom of harmful algae that scientists say is the region’s worst in over a decade.

“It's just like a ghost town,” says Heather Barron, head

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